“Don’t Look Up, Dr. Humphrey.”
Of course, I did. And, my eyes widened as our taxi crossed over the dividing line into a sea of donkey-driven carts, cyclists carrying two and sometimes three passengers, mopeds, pedestrians, pick-up trucks loaded down with cargo, big yellow school buses tagged with Jesus stickers, transport vehicles carrying the national police, and brand new Mitsubishi SUVs with tinted windows. We were all vying for scarce space on a single stretch of tarmac not big enough to hold us all.
It was my first time to Honduras. It was my first time to a developing country. Going was a leap.
As we strained to pick up speed, the big rig we were passing braked gently. Cyclists, pedestrians and mopeds gave way. Seeing our approach, on-coming traffic slowed. What looked like chaos was actually a continuous process of mutual adjustment – a process that got Hondurans to where they needed to be.
Having made the pass, Ashley glanced back at me from the front passenger seat and gave me a reassuring smile. I looked over at Christine, Dan and Katie who were sitting with me in the back seat. They just laughed. All of them had been to Honduras before, some of them multiple times. All of them were my students. All of them, without saying a word, were telling me “We got this. We will get you through this.”
My first trip to Honduras was nothing less than transformative. It altered my life’s course. It had me abandon my research program. It had me enroll in a teacher apprenticeship program, where my students were my mentors. This apprenticeship is still on going. Yet, here are just a few of the lessons I learned from my students on that trip:
- I learned not to feel threatened when they know more than I do.
- I learned that when I cede them space great things can happen without me.
- I learned that I had an important role to play in the classroom just not the one I was trained for.
This fall I will integrate a new cohort of students into my La Ceiba class and follow up with another trip to Honduras. For the first few weeks, a lot of them will share the look I had in the back of that taxi. It’s understandable. It’s a different type of class.
- No lecture notes. No exams. No review sessions. No learning guides.
- Not a lot of structure. Not a lot of direction.
It’s just me and my students waging war against their demons.
They will tell me that they cannot do this or that and I will tell them that they can. They will tell me that they are not allowed to do something and I will tell them to do it anyway. They will tell me that they cannot turn their project in on time and I will tell them to #$%& perfect, just ship (h/t Seth)
Some may see this is as a recipe for chaos in the classroom.
To me, it’s a continuous process of mutual adjustment that can get my students to where they need to be. We expect more passion, commitment, and thoughtfulness from each other so we give more. We know that we need to travel outside our comfort zones to accomplish our goals so when one of us walks into the wilderness it makes it easier for all of us to do it.
Sometimes this process involves cursing as I push them past what they thought they were capable of. Sometimes this process involves crying when I tell them that the bar they have been clearing all along was set way too low. Sometimes this process involves both when they realize that the prison of perfectionism and passivity in which they had long resided had no gate, no locks and no guards. They were free to leave all the time.
To me this process is nothing less than magical.
[Just for the record, sometimes I’m the one doing the cursing and the crying.]