when saying no is saying yes

After 75 minutes of delicious, sweaty hot yoga, our instructor cued us to bring our hands to third-eye center and bow forward. This is the way class is usually closed. However today, this instructor took it to another level:

This is the greatest act of submission–the head bowing to the heart, saying you are greater than me.

Well that’ll get ya thinking. And it did. And those thoughts came full circle to a blog a childhood friend’s husband posted this last week on prioritizing student needs.

I fully support the conviction and paradigm of student-centered teaching. My relationships with my students give me both the perspective and the motivation to be their advocates, to stand up for them, to put them first. Putting them first gives me a much-needed compass in a whirlwind of destructive politics and overwhelming educalculation. I have lived by this motto since I began teaching.

But I will not die by this motto. I guess there is a limit to what I’ll sacrifice to do what’s best for kids. The world of education, unfortunately, is littered with the broken pieces and fragments of marriages, parenting relationships, friendships, health, and hearts of men and women who have laid themselves on the line to do what’s best for the students. Yes-men. Yes-women. Adults who do not establish boundaries, but rather live in martyrdom to the fulfillment of the job. Sadly, so many of them do it because “it’s best for the kids.”

photo (1)But the problem with being a yes-man or yes-woman, is that there is a boomerang lashing to those yeses. Saying yes to school, to students, to grading, to planning, to driving students here and there and everywhere, to attending more games of other people’s children than one’s own, to running this meeting or attending that meeting, to taking on more roles and responsibilities–these are all yeses to the students who need us so desperately, but they are crushing nos to other areas of our lives. No to a peaceful dinner with the family. No to some time to center oneself. No to a connection with someone special to us. No to a quiet walk with the dog. No to the matters of the heart. No to caring for the body as a temple.

Before you misunderstand me and think of me as the heartless teacher (I would hope most of my students would also balk at this), I’d like to emphasize the sacred irony at play here: saying yes to ourselves propels us to be better teachers. The fuller I am, the more I can give. The boundaries I intentionally set and honor allow me to foster a learning-yard of compassionate and giving energy in which students can flourish. Sometimes saying no IS what’s best for students.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Proverbs 4).

From the heart, we teach. And so often our classrooms feel like a battlefield, with attacks both internal and external. Our hearts are wounded. Our hearts need tending. Yes, in the end, that will make us better teachers. But more importantly, it will make us better husbands or wives, moms or dads, friends. It will make us better guardians of our hearts.

This is the greatest act of submission–the head bowing to the heart, saying you are greater than me.