Material from my talk at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) via ZOOM on Thursday, September 10, 2020.
Thanks to Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Aidan Quinlan, Julia Dann, and everyone else at VCU. And thanks to everyone who was part of the "Internet Onion" ... Herdimas Anggara, Taichi Aritomo, Milo Bonacci, Jessica Flemming, Vicky Gebert, Tommy Huang, Harin Jung, Minhwan Kim, Monica Kim, Willis Kingery, David Knowles, Sunnie Liu, Julia Ma, Adam Moftah, Meg Miller, Mengyi Qian, Anna Sagström, Vlad Vykhodets, and Betty Wang.
But the craziest part about teaching for the first time was my own anxiety. I didn’t feel qualified at all to teach. I wasn’t that much older than many students. And some of the grad students were older than me. I was completely shocked, confused, and petrified.
I also remember looking at my class roster and being told that one of the preliminary year graduate students was previously a professional computer programmer. There were lots of others with impressive histories too.
Growing up, I’ve typically been the person in class who is often asked to speak louder, to use more intonation and have better presentation skills, etc. This sort of thing never came naturally to me.
It’s sort of a long story as to why I was this way, but I decided, for the first time in my life, to actively embrace outward-appearing confidence.
I realized that no one in my class would trust me without this sort of confidence. And I needed my students to trust me in order to have a successful class. So for the first time in my life, I decided to be confident as a strategy.
Since confidence didn’t come naturally to me, I decided it was okay to consider wearing confidence as a “cloak”
I like these definitions of cloak from Merriam-Webster. Of course, cloak is a loose outer garment, but it’s also a “distinctive character or role.”
In my thinking, I decided that it’s not important if a teacher is younger or older than the students. What’s important is that the teacher fills the role necessary. In wearing my confidence cloak, I was dependable, communicative, clear, the right amount of fun, and open to supporting and growing students’ ideas. I figured that I could at least set up this dependable structure for students, and that would be valuable. This was my role.
It was around this time, in 2013, I started to become more interested in fashion.
Pictured here is a model wearing Issey Miyake, whose clothes are often draped and loose fitting. I liked Issey’s for their geometric elegance and what I called “body shape mystery,” in the sense that they hid the shape of one’s body, often letting any present air or wind make the shape. I thought hiding the shape of one’s body was a powerful, performative, and playful thing to do… similar to the role I needed to act while teaching.
A teacher's work is simple. Find out where a child's interest lies, and help them live it out. It is always so.
The teacher’s duty is to recognize the distinctive individual gifts in every student—quite often well before they recognize those gifts in themselves—and to have faith in those gifts. If a teacher can’t see and have faith in his students’ gifts, he is not practicing clear-sight.
Learning is a process, not a terminal event. The only significant terminal behavior is death.