Here, There and Everywhere

The Zen of Teaching

The Buddha in the Classroom: Zen Wisdom To Inspire Teachers by Donna Quesada (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011). Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Shared in three insightful and instructive sections (The Burned-out Professor; The Classroom; and Philosophizing Burnout) The Buddha In The Classroom provides situations, discussions and examples of how easy it is for teachers to become “the other” and see their students as “problems, situations, annoyances, complaining, disruptive and disrespectful”, especially when the instructor is caught in their own routines, ego and need to “control” or “teach them a lesson”.

Every instance of conflict, frustration or anger that is presented, is followed by a section called “Dharma: The Lesson for Teachers”. Dharma simply means teaching or “the teaching”. This is where the author brings in her experiences and conversations she’s had as a practitioner of Zen-Buddhism and yoga and how they can be applied to the classroom. For example, after a section on discipline and a student that has acted out, she says, “As any mother knows, even in the context of one small family, each child has her own character with her own unique needs.” It is no different in the classroom. Nothing can be set in stone for every individual. Connection, understanding and paying attention to our perceptions can change night into day.

Some may ask, how is Zen-Buddhism or meditation in the classroom, any different from other aspects of life. It’s not. The same principles and practices Ms. Quesada advocates for teachers can be applied in any situation and at any time. She states, “I used to tell my students: if I had to sum up Buddhism in just one statement, I would call it the discipline of letting go. Letting go of what? The ego. The self. The idea of self, and the cloak of separateness the ego-self wears.” The practice of letting go of one’s perceptions of self and others is never more apparent or magnified than it is in the classroom. That is what makes this book different than other titles, which proclaim, “Zen in Art; Zen and Writing, The Zen of Running, etc.” The author speaks from experience and shows how she applies mindfulness and consistency to the way she deals with grades, tardiness, disruptions, tests and other familiar issues that teachers confront daily. It isn’t fairy-airy ideology or philosophy that is proposed, but down-to-earth mindfulness and consistent work on our selves.

Ironically or perhaps not, the author teaches philosophy at a community college in Santa Monica California. Teachers and other readers will find however, that the Zen lesson plan presented contextually as a work of non-fiction, is equally valuable for teachers and students at all grade levels. She has found that the most effective learning and connections take place when we realize that, “There has never been anything else but the present moment, yet we continue to reside in the fictional world of the past and the whimsical fantasies of the future. We never give the same lecture twice. We are not the same teachers we were last year or even yesterday.” She says that bringing the practice of mindfulness or awareness to the moment and letting go of our ego helps us get clear and enables us to turn our attention wholeheartedly to the students. When we do this “there is a magical shift that occurs with this simple shift of attention.”

Not only is The Buddha In The Classroom something that can be utilized in its entirety, by sections or a few pages at a time, it is also easy on the eyes and deftly designed by LeAnna Weller Smith. It is a cross between a hardcover/paperback and in some ways resembles a small Christian Bible. It doesn’t matter whether you are religious, spiritual or meditate; if you are a teacher of 20 years or just starting out, you will surely find some pertinent gems of wisdom in this small collection, with which you can resonate and put into practice (in and out of the classroom).

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