When I think back to my days in the classroom the most important moments happened when I looked past the hardened sneer of a difficult student to see them as they really were. It turns out they were rarely what they seemed on the surface. Somewhere deep inside them there was something more than the negative image that they projected to the outside world.
Of course, this inner spirit was often walled off and starved; and the more a student needed my help, the more likely they were to push me away. It seems the one’s who needed love the most were always the hardest to love. There were many, many days I lost sight of my students as people. I gave in and saw them as they wanted to be seen and not as they truly were.
I believe it is essential for teachers to have the heart of ‘Don Quixote’, the Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote saw the beauty in life; and he saw the inner beauty of the people around him including Aldonza, a hard-hearted and angry whore. Quixote sees her as Dulcinea, a virtuous lady, and treats her as such. Aldonza rejects Quixote’s vision of her. She insists she is nothing. She has given up on herself but Don Quixote has not. She can deal with people’s anger and scorn but not with Don Quixote’s tenderness and respect.
Quixote’s response? “Never deny that you are Dulcinea!” He sees the best in her.
I wish every teacher could see the best that lies hidden in their students. I wish every teacher would do their best to bring that ‘best’ to the surface. There is a seed in each of us that needs to be nourished. Sometimes a teacher believing in a student when that student doesn’t even believe in themselves is all the nourishment it takes to have that seed grow and flower.
The classroom is a complex organism. It is composed of many, many unique individuals, each with their own set of experiences, each on a journey to find their place in the world. It’s easy to lose the heart of Don Quixote and to simply deal with the world as we see it. There are so many disappointments and betrayals that bring us to the point of asking, “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe believing in the nobility of others is just a silly, romantic notion.”
Near the end of his life even the Man of La Mancha lost faith in his own quest to see others as their best selves.
In fact, it is Aldonza, the most hardened of souls, that finally begins to blossom. She starts to believe in herself as Quixote has believed in her. She sees that she is ‘worthy’ of respect. She feels the good soul within her. It is Aldonza, the student, who revives Quixote, the teacher, from his despair.
Don Quixote has touched the soul of Aldonza. She will never be the same. No longer a whore. She is Dulcinea, the lady.
May the heart of La Mancha burn in the heart of every teacher. May we open our eyes to the Dulcinea’s and the Quixote’s that enter our classrooms every day. May we believe in them and may we help them see the goodness within them.
Cross Posted at Ed Tech Journeys
Note: Photo by Anfal Al-Obaidley
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