My Pedagogy of Love

A few weeks ago, I attended a public lecture entitled From Pedagogy of the Oppressed to A Pedagogy of Love: A Freirean Praxis for Our Time by Dr. Antonia Darder of Loyola Marymount University. The lecture was sponsored by the Science and Art of Learning and Teaching (SALT) Institute of the Ateneo de Manila University, Ateneo Teacher Center, and Teach for the Philippines.

In her lecture, Dr. Darder says:

Freire wrote of the politics of love by engaging with the personal
and communal exchanges he considered important to the relationship
between teachers and students. In particular, he sought to encourage the importance of cultivating greater intimacy between self, others, and the world, in the process of our teaching and learning.

One of the things I began thinking about after her talk was:  What does it mean to be in a loving relationship with our students? I spent a few weeks thinking about this and I guess my own response to this question would be my own pedagogy of love.

“Mercy is the willingness to enter into the chaos of another.”

This quote from Fr. James Keenan, S.J. circulated when Pope Francis announced the Year of Mercy in 2016. It came into mind when I thought about the uniqueness of each student. They come to us with different backgrounds, different experiences, and different baggage. To build a relationship with each one, then, calls for mercy – a willingness to understand and accept each student regardless of what they have to offer. It is also the willingness to see the world through their eyes and to be in solidarity with their own experiences of joy and sorrow.

From the teaching perspective, mercy comes in the form of our willingness to journey with our students as learners. It is to understand where they are at the moment and it is to strive for patience to help them get to where you need them to be.

“The way we talk to our child becomes his or her inner voice.” – Joanna Faber & Julie King

As a reader and former language arts teacher, I strongly believe in the power of words and how our realities are shaped by the way we use language. In my experience with formation and speaking to hundreds of students, nothing is as dangerous or as powerful as the stories we tell ourselves. Our personal narratives can dictate our destiny – they can lead us towards a life of purpose or a life we would soon regret.

This is why I think teachers should be more cognizant when it comes to use of words. When we talk to our students, we shape their identities, help them reflect about their motivations, and steer them towards agency. How we talk also reflects how we see them – whether we see them as individuals worthy of respect or as inferior individuals.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” – Anne Lamott

I came across this quote from the blog of Fr. Johnny Go, S.J. In this particular post, he talked about burnout when he was working inside a school. In a profession where we are asked to give so much of ourselves, it is no wonder that many teachers suffer from burnout. I’ve struggled with this a lot but I’ve been grateful for the many times my own students have saved me from this.

Parker Palmer describes teaching as a “daily exercise in vulnerability.” And because of this, our self-criticism tends to overshadow our self-compassion. When the going gets tough and we feel tempted to wallow in the dark and skip school, we should remember that our students are waiting. They have the courage to show up and one particular student taught me this lesson – Charlie. Just showing up and being there is a daily gift we can give to our students.

And so I end with this, to have the courage to teach is to have the courage to love:

“The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able.” – Parker Palmer