In high school, I had a fantastic chemistry teacher, Mrs. B, who was driven to inspire us with a love of learning. We were a crowd of honors students, and she seemed to bare her soul to us, through her passion for chemistry.
In her commitment to challenge us in our scientific growth, she served as a role model for what teaching can and should be. And it only occurred to me recently that although my career has little to do with chemistry (aside from interpersonal “chemistry,” as a metaphor for love relations), she imparted a wisdom that I use in my practice every day.
Passion can make us blind
I recall Mrs. B frantically scribbling chemistry equations on the blackboard, at speeds we students were barely able to follow. She possessed a magical energy as she dove into combinations and bonds at a rate that made our heads spin. She was a performer in her teaching role, and we were entranced.
But did we really understand the material, or were we just amused by her passion-play? How could she know?
As a seasoned and astute teacher, keenly aware of this predicament, she would catch and check herself. Frequently throughout the class, she would pause in her frenzy to turn around to us and search the crowd with an eager nodding of, “Yes? Yes?”
Implicit in her searching “yes?” was the humility to know that although SHE understood what was going on, perhaps her students weren’t fully grasping the material. Perhaps in her passionate whirlwind of ideas, she had lost her audience. She was keenly aware of how the intensity could make her blind to her students, who, after all, were the intended recipients of her message. By taking those moments to check-in, she would pause in her dramatic crescendo of ideas, to make sure her message was being conveyed. After all, if we weren’t learning the material, what was the purpose of her teaching?
In my work as a conflict coach and mediator, I see how we are often blinded by our passion. We are so deep-dug in the trenches of our own perspective, that we are crippled from relating to the party across the table. Like Mrs. B, we need to learn to pause in our assumptions and check-in with the others. Are they getting the message? Are they following our point? Or are they just mesmerized by our anger, with no idea of what it’s about?
When we’re angry or upset, we need to make sure we’re clear on what’s really the problem and whether or not we’re effectively conveying it to the other side. It’s possible we’ve gotten so side-tracked with the message on the blackboard, that we’ve inadvertently turned our backs on our students! Let’s learn from Mrs. B and turn around to check.