“Something ancient and holy was unfolding all around me. It was what the wandering pilgrim-poet Basho called a ‘glimpse of the under-glimmer’ an experience of the deeply real that lurks everywhere beneath centuries of stereotypes and false images that prevent us from truly seeing other people.”
The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau
When I was teaching, I liked walking down the hallways of my middle school when class was in session and I wasn’t. Strolling past open doors, I had the chance to tune in to the sights and sounds of teaching and learning unfolding all around me. On any particular day I might pass a social studies class where students were intensely engaged in a discussion about human rights, a science class where the teacher was winding up a demonstration on electricity, and a language arts class where students were writing about the moral repercussions of a main character’s life choices. In the hallway, I might see the school social worker walking an autistic student back to class after their weekly basketball session in the gym or hear a math teacher’s whispered conversation with a student, urging her to try harder in class. At the end of the hall I might pause to enjoy the music of the choir practicing for a concert. Of course, bulletin boards and doorways were covered with samples of student work; Heart-felt poetry in front of one classroom, math problems in front of another.
As any teacher knows, all of this learning,
happens all day every day.
In fact, it is so commonplace that we forget to notice it.
But, luckily, every once in a while, I was struck by the magnitude and mightiness of what was being undertaken and accomplished, by teachers and by students in my school, and in every school, every day. And I am not just talking about the content learning, but instead, the deeply real “under-glimmer” referred to by the Japanese poet, Basho.
How can I explain what the under-glimmer is?
The under-glimmer is all the other encouraging and connecting and communicating that takes place in order to facilitate the content learning. And more than that, the learning and connecting and communicating that takes place that is bigger and more important than the content learning.
The under-glimmer is teachers striving to connect personally with their students, knowing that the connection is the real purpose and reward of the job. It is students stepping out of their comfort zone, working hard, making friends with kids who are different.
The under-glimmer is the fact that each classroom is a microcosm of society where shared experiences and jokes and challenges and exchanges shape each person in that unique and never-to-be-repeated grouping. Yes, the content is the history lesson on human rights. The under-glimmer is the way that lesson shapes a child’s thinking and value formation for a world beyond the classroom. The debate might be the content, but the under-glimmer is a shy child finally having the strength to speak her truth, or an angry child finally getting someone to listen to and understand his anger. In short, the under-glimmer is everything including and beyond the content.
It is true. During my days as I teacher, I often forgot about the beauty of teaching in order to attend to the business. But every once in a while, when I stopped to really see and really listen and really think about what a gloriously wonderful place school is, the laughter and love, the learning and the yearning to grow is laid bare. And in those times, on those days when I sensed the under-glimmer, when I truly grasped the big picture of what really takes place in a school, I felt awed to be part of it. And a huge love for my students and my fellow teachers, for my fellow travelers on this journey bubbled up inside me. And I knew how lucky I was to be a teacher.