the “look”

The classroom was where I got the validation I sorely needed at an early age. It helped a lot that my aunts were both public school teachers in the town’s elementary school. I loved being in school. It felt like work-play for children before reaching what the adults called “real life” where I’d be reporting to work daily and I’d have to pay bills.

It was in a Grade 5 science class when it first felt like I used my brain. Our science teacher asked the class if we thought there were living beings outside of earth. I don’t quite recall why I was selected to share my thoughts on that. I definitely wasn’t the type to raise my hand for a class recitation. Perhaps no one seemed to want to answer the question and I happened to one of the nicer students. Nice, meaning he can press some answers out of me.

I remember hearing some giggles when I said I believed that there were living beings outside this planet. The teacher seemed amused and urged me to elaborate on my answer. “Well, Earth is home to living beings. Earth is just one of the planets revolving around the sun, which is a star. There’s a big chance that at least one of the planets revolving around the millions of stars we see at night can also be home to living beings. So there I believe there is life outside Earth.” Please do note that I gave this answer in our local dialect and struggled finishing the answer because I don’t exactly like getting my classmates’ attention.

I was surprised I thought of it that way. I never really spent time thinking about it. I was preoccupied with what lunch would be when I get home after class for the noon break. I guess spending time at the cousin’s house for their encyclopedia did me some good.

The science teacher tilted his head slightly on the side and gave me the “look” I’ve grown most eager to earn. It’s when your teachers seem to see you again for the first time, regard you with greater respect, and somehow it makes you feel like you’ve done something right – and your self-worth increases (without your teachers needing to say anything).

Decades later, I recognize that look as an opportunity for a moment of silence to relish the idea that your students are actually thinking and are learning something. Most of the time, you’d be dealing with a bored bunch of kids counting the seconds until the class ends.

What makes the look special is that you can count years before you encounter such a moment. This time, I get to give the look as a college teacher and realize that that particular moment is validation for both teacher and student – that they’re in the right place doing the right thing.

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