February 2022 meant that I have been at the University of Arizona’s College of Law Library in Tucson for one whole year. Although the pandemic has rendered the passing of time a mere illusion (more than usual!), I still think it’s a good moment to attempt to answer at least one of the many questions I get asked all the time: Why do you like it over there so much? I’m constantly bombarded with questions such as why would you leave NYC or the federal government? Why would you move so far away? Aren’t you in the desert or close to the border? What’s so good about your new job? Honestly, I have no final answers to any of these questions. It’s still a work in progress. Perhaps, the only beginning of an answer I can offer you would be: teaching.
What resonates so profoundly with me in teaching is the sense of supporting people in the process of growth, lifting them up, creating a safe space to ask millions of questions and ponder answers and possibilities, empowering them with new tools, and nurturing a sense of curiosity, awareness and self-reflection. I’m so grateful to have landed a job that allows me to do just that on a daily basis and way beyond the traditional or virtual classroom setting. I get to do it in the classes that I teach, the research that I support or lead, the student groups we engage with, the events and panels we create with and for them and the students and fellows I get to mentor and also learn from daily.
I can assure people (including my therapist!) that this type of constant, and mindful teaching has transformed me in multiple ways. I’m convinced that the more you teach, the more you get to learn about yourself. If your goal is for the students to feel nurtured, cared, safe, appreciated, seen, heard, the teacher needs to show themselves vulnerable, in the making and just as they are. I’m truly learning exactly just that every day in my job and I feel transformed with the response and interactions with the students.
In preparation for teaching, I spoke and listened to some fantastic librarians and professors talking about their own path. Some of them cited their own parents as role models in becoming who they are as professors and developing their own pedagogical philosophy. They described how either they had a parent that was a teacher themselves, or someone in their families was, or perhaps they grew up in a home full of care, protection and encouragement provided by one or two nurturing parents. That was not the case for me at all.
I had a difficult childhood. I grew up in a household dominated by the unpredictable rage of a narcissistic man, both grandiose and insecure at the same time. My mother was completely overwhelmed by this situation. When my brother came along, it was all OK, to some extent, because he followed the script and hit all the correct marks. I was not so lucky. From a very early age, I was an effeminate, skinny and nerdy kid. As you can probably imagine, those characteristics didn’t match what my hyper macho, charismatic and dominating father wanted of me. Therefore, I only have memories of my father neglecting, rejecting or ignoring me, whereas my mother would be paralyzed by the situation. I grew up with this scenario. A scenario that has haunted me ever since. But also a scenario that I have had a lot of time to work on, to be aware of, and to heal from during countless therapy sessions.
More importantly, what I have discovered after a year in my current job is how much the teaching and interacting with the students and fellows have allowed me to heal even more. Every time a student gives me the opportunity to teach them something is a moment for me to heal. I see myself in them when they ask me lots of questions, when they struggle to understand something, when they feel lonely, when they’re overwhelmed, when they’re frustrated, scared and vulnerable and don’t ask any questions at all, when they can’t find the correct words to describe how they feel. I know exactly how that feels. And because of that, I’d like to think I’m able to give them the nurturing, caring and safety that they need. I meet them where they are and definitely not with all the answers that they expect from me. Instead, I meet them where they are as someone who is equally vulnerable and offering them to work on a solution or plan together. In two professions, law and librarianship, obsessed with who is the smartest and most clever one in the room, I offer them storytelling and company. It’s all I have.
And despite my lack of role models in my childhood or lack of perfect answers, I’m able to relish in their growth, successes, and blossoming which then allows me to heal, and to transform myself. A win-win combo!
I can’t wait for the coming years of more teaching, learning and healing. This is just the beginning.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. Their essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.