I Love You, But First I Love Me: Unconditional Love In a Classroom Setting

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By Maureen Cummings — “I can’t teach you all of these,” my professor began as she wrote on the board what she referred to as MC’s 7 Rules of Teaching. 

“I can teach most of them, but that first one- you’ve just to have that.” The first of MC’s 7 Rules of Teaching was to give unconditional love- not exactly a light concept.

I’ve been on this thought for about three weeks now and still have not fully digested it.  To start, this meant for me that teachers are held with the unique responsibility to love each student in his or her class equally and fully, constantly embracing each of their shortcomings, differences, attitudes, challenges, and missteps. Of course exploring this concept requires the acknowledgment of the definitive difference between unconditional liking and unconditional loving.

The phrase I grew up hearing, “I’ll love you even when I don’t particularly like you,” seems applicable. Sometimes the task of always liking people seems heavier than that of always loving them; nevertheless, the more I delve in to what it means to be a teacher sharing unconditional love with her students, the more I discover unforeseen facets of my own working definition.

As I’ve continued to reflect on MC’s preface to her rules of teaching, her words have become more alarmingly true to me. I can be taught what unconditional love looks like from a teaching stand point, maybe even some strategies to display it, but I cannot be taught how to be or how to feel.

It’s the less obvious portion of this responsibility that I think may sometimes go unnoticed. Unconditional love for our students may require that we give unconditional love to ourselves first.  While I see how obnoxiously demanding and falsely profound that statement may sound on its own, I believe this truth to exist beyond its Hallmark card lifespan.

The ignorant may say, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” but others truly aware of the impact of educators may be more inclined to agree with Malcolm Forbes in that, “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Furthermore, that teachers who show kindness, resilience, dedication, and a whole host of character-defining traits are the ones that will fulfill this purpose.

When you see teaching as described in the latter half of my previous statement, as most every educator does, an incredibly influential and intimidating task becomes demanded of the teacher and the need for unconditional self love becomes all the more important.

A teacher who shows him- or herself unconditional love displays confidence in his or her skills, and then patience with the inevitable weaknesses that come with the reality of being human. This self-love is about cherishing the opportunity given every morning that you are allowed to be a role model for the student’s in your class and about forgiving yourself when you forget that or fall short. Unconditional love for oneself deals a lot more with one’s ability to understand that it is possible to persevere through the hardest challenges of one’s career, and less about one’s self image. The most important teachers in my life have thought they could and so they did- simple as that: somehow through whatever circumstances unknown to me that stood in their way, my teachers had enough self love to give themselves another chance at taking my closed mind and replacing it with an open one.

By continuing to give themselves another chance, these teachers continued to give me a chance.  MC will never be able to teach me how she’s done it, nor will any of my other teachers, but because of their examples of self-love, I think I too can love myself enough to give someone else a chance.

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