When I think back to my days in the classroom some of the most important moments happened when I looked past the hardened sneer or a facade of indifference of a difficult student to see them as they really were. They were rarely ever what they seemed on the surface. Somewhere deep inside of them, like all of us, there was something more. Of course, this inner spirit was often walled off and starved; and the more a student needed my help, the more they pushed me away. It seemed the one’s who needed love and attention the most were almost always the hardest to love. There were many, many days I lost sight of my students as people. I gave in and saw them as they wanted to be seen and not as they truly were.
I believe it’s essential for teachers to have the heart of ‘Don Quixote’, the Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote saw the beauty in life, as well as the inner beauty of the people around him including Aldonza, a hard hearted and angry prostitute. Quixote sees her inner spirit and goodness and treats her as Dulcinea, a virtuous lady. Aldonza, hurt by her hard life, walled off and angry, rejects Quixote’s vision of her. She insists she is nothing. As the lyrics reveal, she knows how to deal with anger but not with tenderness.
Quixote’s response? “Never deny that you are Dulcinea!”
I wish every teacher could see the best ‘self’ that lies hidden in each of their students. I wish every teacher were able to bring that best ‘self’ to the surface. But the classroom is a complex organism. It’s composed of many, many unique individuals, each with their own set of experiences, each on a journey to find their place in the world. We’re busy, and it’s easy to lose the heart of Don Quixote and to simply deal with the world, and our students as they are on the surface. Near the end of his life even the Man of La Mancha lost faith in his own quest to see others as their best selves.
Interestingly, it’s Aldonza, the most hardened of souls, that finally begins to see herself as Quixote has seen her. Without realizing it he has planted a seed in her heart. The seed begins to grow and she feels the good soul within her. It’s Aldonza, the student, who revives Quixote, the teacher, from his despair.
Don Quixote has touched the soul of Aldonza. She’ll never be the same. No longer a prostitute, she is Dulcinea, the lady. Touching the hearts of our students isn’t easy. but it’s here in the realm of the heart, that we are most apt to experience the true magic of teaching.
May the heart of La Mancha burn in your heart and in the heart of every teacher. May we open our eyes to the Dulcinea’s and the Quixote’s that enter our classrooms every day. May we help them see the goodness within them.