This weekend I had the privilege of seeing the film Monsieur Lazhar. There is so much to be said about this film, but what has remained with me for the past few days is Monsieur Lazhar’s clear assertion that a classroom or school is a place of “friendship, work, courtesy and life, a place to offer life”. He says these words to his students on the day he is forced to leave them and in response to the actions of other adults in the school who have “infected the school with their personal despair”. Monsieur Lazhar, himself, is dealing with significant personal tragedy, as well as, the challenge of being a political refugee in an unfamiliar culture. However, he shows reverence for the needs of his students and recognizes that he is there for them, that their healing is more important than his. Monsieur Lazhar is not a perfect teacher, but what comes through to the students are actions and words qualified by a spirit of love, attentiveness, and care. There is something self-emptying about the role of the teacher that he embraces and a recognition that there is something very dangerous about becoming needy as a teacher. What was especially remarkable was that Monsieur Lazhar did not fall into the trap of becoming a divided person, who leaves part of himself “at the door” of the classroom in order to fulfill the expected role of teacher. It was clear that his personal experiences stayed with him, but he didn’t allow those experiences to “infect”. Instead he used his own suffering to understand the suffering of his students, and to pay attention to them in a way that allowed wisdom to arise. He found life in his suffering and offered that life to his students.
We can’t help carrying ourselves into the classroom. We offer ourselves as whole persons. This is our uniqueness and our freedom. No one can offer me to my students except me, but how or in what manner of spirit I offer myself to my students is my free choice. I will either “infect” or “inoculate” (and inevitably I will do both because I am not yet healed). Therefore, I must also pay attention to my heart, and keep examining the use of my freedom, as well as, the manner qualifying my gestures. Is my practice full of my own agenda, my own needs? Or am I, at times, able to come to my students with a heart that is empty enough to make room for them and for all of the wisdom that will arise when two or three are gathered in the name of love?