The Gestures of Grace

Alison Melotti-Cormack - Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
Entered on June 22, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe that Velcro has all but eliminated one of the most intimate gestures in education –- that of a teacher kneeling at the feet of a five-year-old who cannot tie his shoelaces. Teaching is all about learning and the gestures of grace.

I believe a good teacher is one who loves learning; one who is constantly curious about the world she lives in and the world that lives within her. In 1972 as a new graduate in my native New Zealand I wanted to be anything except a teacher. But I loved learning, I soaked up knowledge like a sponge and every new learning both shattered and reshaped my world. Learning healed the hurting places in me, opened my imagination and allowed me to offer myself to the world in new ways. I became a teacher.

I believe that a good teacher must be able to connect with her students –- to meet them heart to heart rather than head to head. I believe being able to connect with students is only possible after learning how to connect with oneself. I believe on a daily basis I have to find the very best in myself in order to teach well. And I believe I have to be on intimate terms with the very worst of myself if I am to leave my inner demons at the classroom door. I believe a good teacher knows her gestures of fear. Each day I teach, I learn more about who I am so that I am not undone by the small things: the intercepted note, the student who misses the bus, the request for yet another pencil or piece of paper, the urgent need for one more trip to the bathroom.

I believe that a good teacher eventually learns to welcome the child who will push her explode button, trample on her last nerve and ultimately expose a deeply hidden flaw. I believe a good teacher knows her gestures of anger. She does not punish a student for seeing into her; she learns about her human fallibility — and she learns to laugh at herself. A good teacher remains human in the classroom.

I believe that a good teacher evolves over time; it is only the gestures that change. In my early years of teaching, visitors to my room would ask, “Where’s the teacher?” I was usually on the floor somewhere, up to my eyeballs in glue and paint or math manipulatives. My classrooms could generally run themselves. Thirty years later I am more visible; I am usually sitting in earnest conversation with one of the emotionally disturbed students I now teach.

I believe that listening to my students is a gesture of grace. It is the place where I learn most about resilience and pain and courage. It is the place where I have the opportunity to reflect back the strengths I see in each student. It is the place where I have the opportunity to offer the hope I have funded from a lifetime of enduring the often painful process of learning. It is the place where truth is more important than being right. It is the place where, like Velcro, the gesture is one of connection in this thing called life.

Born and raised in the south of New Zealand, Alison Melotti-Cormack has taught in Iran, Libya, and Turkey as well as New Zealand and the United States. Her daughter, Alex, a recent graduate of Boston University, lives and teaches in Japan. Her son, Nicholas, is a junior at Endicott College in Boston. Alison is a teacher of the emotionally disturbed in Washington County, MD. She also writes and conducts workshops for educators.