“Our inner world has a reality and a power that can keep us from being victims of circumstance and compel us to take responsibility for our own lives.”
– Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach
She had a pet skunk as a child.
She uses the term “pow-wow” on a regular basis.
She’s a ballerina.
She teaches yoga.
She once spent over a month backpacking Europe by herself.
Oh, yeah! She’s also our technology teacher – and frankly, I think Ms. Susannah Azzaro is perfect for the job.
When I interviewed Ms. Azzaro for this, she got me talking in such a way that I could have forgotten I was interviewing her. Ms. Azzaro, though a naturally compassionate soul, works very hard at making people feel known and loved. Her striving to know people provides encouragement for them to further know and be known in the world – and this is Ms. Azzaro’s goal as she teaches.
As a habit, she employs the philosophy of Parker Palmer. For education to be effective, Palmer believes knowing the inner self and knowing each other is the principle foundation required. Palmer says, “When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadows of my own unexamined life—and when I cannot see them clearly, I cannot teach them well.”
Ms. Azzaro wholeheartedly echoes Palmer’s sentiment. When I asked Ms. Azzaro what knowing oneself means, she slowly leaned back, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath before answering me. “Oh, it’s that thing I need reminded of every day,” she said. “And always will.”
What is knowing oneself? It’s knowing you’re worth it.
And thus, truly knowing another person is knowing they’re worth it.
Ms. Azzaro has set out to make students know their worth. “Some of these students come with such battered self-esteem that they can’t bear to even submit assignments.” She told me a story of a student who was so unsure that they mattered, they couldn’t conceive why their school assignments did. As a teacher, Ms. Azzaro sees her greatest task as helping her students know themselves.
This notion of knowing drives the way that she teaches her classes. She begins with a lesser focus on content, and greater focus on safety and integrity. For Ms. Azzaro, it seems impossible for anyone to relate to content when they don’t know themselves to begin with.
Making content the biggest goal in education is like expecting students to use a map on which they do not know their own location. We won’t know what to do with content until we know our own value. Grasping our value, we may know our own potential in relation to the content we teach and learn.
“Making content the biggest goal in education is like expecting students to use a map on which they do not know their own location.”
In an era when technology is sometimes an isolating social force, it’s good to have someone like Susannah Azzaro teaching our children and teens that they are more valuable than technology or any other content.
The “content” is a way of living well on this journey of life. On life’s journey, what good is a map if you don’t know where in the world you are on it?