The Teacher

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

the teacher

The Teacher
(Pen and India Ink)

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“Life in the classroom is real, adventuresome, thrilling, and demanding. How do we get ourselves out in the open? How do we wake up?…Let us acknowledge that a school is more than a place or a staff or a student body; it is a process: of bringing to birth, of awakening.”

–excerpts from Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, & the Person, by M.C. Richards

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Ninth grade was a difficult year for me, as it is for so many ninth graders. I’d started a new school, my parents were divorcing, and that thing called adolescence was underway. But it was also the year I met someone who forever changed me, the year I took my first art class with Dr. Dianne Skye.

Dianne was the art teacher at P. K. Yonge Developmental Research School for many years, and I recently attended her retirement celebration. She was a tireless instructor, a strong artist and potter, and also had trained in the same counselor education program from which I later received my PhD. Other teachers had loved me before, but Dianne was the first who loved me openly, without apology. While I believe that she loved all of her students, I know that her love saved me.

Sometimes I’d arrive at school unable to compose myself. The divorce was painful, and I engaged in a good bit of uncontrollable sobbing. I’d stumble into Dianne’s classroom before the first bell and take refuge in her tiny office, where she’d light a candle, position tissue, and quietly close the door before leading students through home room. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, but we gradually became close.

Later that year, Dianne gave me The Artist’s Way, a book that has since become very popular. At thirteen, though, I’d never seen anything like it, and I was profoundly impacted. Dianne had inscribed kind words on the inside cover and signed her name, “Love, Dianne.” Those gifts, the book and her love, are still with me today.

I devoured the first chapter and immediately committed myself to Morning Pages–three pages of stream-of-consciousness long-hand writing every morning, first thing in the morning, without fail. On weekdays, this required waking up at 5:30am, which I did.

I filled hundreds of pages while I worked my way through the book. It’s a big undertaking, and not necessarily one I’d opt for at this age or stage of life. But back then, the book meant survival. I’d always kept a journal, but writing each morning formed a lifeline, a way to consistently put overwhelming, chaotic life experiences in a safe container. My journal became my own candlelit office, my own refuge. I wrote Morning Pages for the next fifteen years, and I still revive the practice when I need new direction and guidance.

 I took art classes with Dianne until I left for college, most of which I spent in the potter’s studio throwing pots. Sitting at the wheel and centering clay, I learned to center myself, too. Periodically, Dianne would check on me, give me a few tips if I needed them, and then return to teaching her classes. When I’d leave for the day, she’d hug me and tell me she loved me.

I never tired of hearing those words, and I carry her influence inside me. She’s there when I teach, when I open my office as a refuge,  when I encourage my students and clients to write or paint or otherwise express their overwhelming experiences in the safe container of creativity. In this way, her love continues to multiply.

Perhaps at the heart of every great teacher is love.

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