Teaching is intimate.
That makes a lot of us uncomfortable but it’s true. It makes us uncomfortable because we do not have a fully developed understanding of what intimacy is. We believe intimacy is sexual in nature.
This misunderstanding is the same thing that makes some women uncomfortable with the intimacy of breastfeeding or some people uncomfortable with the intimacy of child rearing as a whole. This misunderstanding is what gets confused for romantic crushes on teachers and students. Because we associate intimacy with sexual desire, we assume that intimacy is sexual in nature when we feel intimacy crop up for us. It isn’t.
Intimacy is so much deeper and richer and more important and more useful than sexual desire. Sexual desire is immature and silly compared to what intimacy is capable of accomplishing. Sexual desire is extremely limited compared to all of the variety of contexts where intimacy regularly shows up.
When we come to understand the true nature of intimacy, we can see that the doctor-patient relationship is intimate, the exchange of money is intimate, interactions with police are intimate, therapy is intimate, music is intimate, creating art is intimate and yes, teaching is intimate.
Teaching is intimate because learning is personal and transformative and in order to get to transformation, we have to go through vulnerability, openness to change, and willingness to communicate honestly. This means, when it’s being done correctly, the teaching-learning space is intimate and the teacher-student relationship is based on intimacy.
At best, in avoiding or ignoring the reality that teaching is intimate, we ruin the possibility for transformation. At worst, we cause academic trauma and make some students (and teachers) feel as though they do not belong.
The best teachers — the ones students remember and rave about and always hold dear — understand and respect the intimate nature of teaching. The best administrations protect, respect, and treasure (in deed — NOT in word alone) their best teachers.
Unfortunately, our discomfort with the fact that teaching is intimate produces a lot of “worst” of both, instead of best.
JodiAnn Stevenson lives in the U.S., in the Northwest Corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, on The Big Lake. Her writing has appeared in numerous venues since 1996. She is the author of three published chapbooks of poetry: The Procedure (March Street Press, 2006); Houses Don’t Float (Habernicht Press, 2010); and Diving Headlong Into A Cliff of Our Own Delusion (Saucebox, 2011). Her mixed-genre work Marina Abramovic Is My Mother is available in the form of a short-run podcast. She has also produced eight chapbooks of poetry for The Broken Nose Collective which she co-founded in 2013. JodiAnn was founder and co-managing editor of the feminist micro-press, Binge Press and its sister journal, 27 rue de fleures, from 2004 until 2017.
A (more or less) complete list of publications and appearances: