I Teach Words

December 1, 2014


This morning I sang to my daughter on the way to school. In Italian. I am not fluent in Italian, but when I was 17, I learned a vocal warm-up exercise from my strict, Eastern European voice teacher. To this day, I remember the words of all eight songs in the warm up – meant to train the voice to jump in thirds, fifths and octaves. 

    My six year old was not particularly impressed by the song, but she did listen. What went through my mind as I sang the song was that my son is now 17, which means that there are things he will learn that may stay with him all his life, that is, if he loves them, if he enjoys learning them, as I enjoyed learning to sing. 

    The idea that education has to be an institution – in a school – is preposterous and sad. The idea that education has to be only what you can prove on paper, that which can be assessed, is also to me a tragedy.

    Take meditation and yoga for example. That same year in college as I learned to sing in Italian, I also took a Speech class. The teacher had us all lie on the floor, adjust our bodies, and pay attention to our breath, while she took us through a visual meditation. That day in class was the first time I was ever introduced to the idea that the body can be watched, can be intentionally relaxed, can be conditioned to be in a state of openness and acceptance. 

    Very little else that I learned in school is applied to my daily life, yet I have accessed skills from my speech, acting and voice training classes every day of my life. I am writing this as a 41 year old woman who only wishes she could spend every day singing. Had I never been shown how to properly breathe or what it means to speak and act and move with purpose, I would perhaps not be the teacher I am today.

    Four days a week, I stand before a group of anxious and impressionable students at Bristol Community College. We do not sing, and we do not learn Italian. Instead, I teach words (my second love) and we read and tell our stories to one another. I try to create a space of acceptance in my class, of peace and openness. Sometimes we just sit, and ponder a word or phrase in a story, a question someone has posed. 
My other belief about education: The fertile playground of the soul must be given space and encouragement to create – silence is as much a part of my education as is the song. 


Stacie Hess
LifeWork Project Coordinator 

In the photograph:
Manuela Rosa, Wise Program (left)
Stacie Hess (right)

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