Human at the Whiteboard

Anne Marie Merline, University Honors Program,
Anne Marie Merline, University Honors Program,

Pure childlike joy in the classroom? Can it happen? Yes. Let me tell you how it happened in my classroom.

A couple of columns early in the semester had to do with how to connect with people. One of the issues we discussed is how we can form closer community with people in light of all of the virtual community that is present in our lives. In my 12:30 p.m. class, a TED Talk by Dr. Brené Brown “The Power of Vulnerability” came to the minds of two or three of my students.


One of my students, Caleb, offered to conduct an exercise that he had done with his youth group based on this talk. The premise is that when you take the risk with others and expose thoughts that you might otherwise might not, that it builds trust and opens the door for a closer emotional connection between people.

Before the students got into the crux of the exercise, Caleb did two physical exercises. The first was to get people prepared for the activity, the second was to explore the idea of “comfort zone.” Caleb sent them out into the hallway to “get pumped up.” Their charge was to get excited before they came back into the room.

He would not let them back into the classroom until he could tell they were filled with energy. Caleb powered up his iPod with some music and instructed the students to do some physical things in the classroom. There was the running. Running close together. Running far apart. Then interspersed dancing. Dance with your eyes closed. Dance with your eyes open. Dance like there is no tomorrow.

I asked Caleb if I could just watch and not take part in the exercise. I have never seen a whole class of smiles like I saw during these few minutes as I did last Tuesday. This sight reminded me of something that my son said when he was in second grade.

Ben got in the car and said, “You know what. Mom?” I said, “What Ben?” and he said, “School sucks the creativity out of you.” I could not disagree with him. I explained that public education, to some degree, is to bring us in-line with all of the other students in social mores and common knowledge and ways of thinking. Mass education does not focus on fostering our unique selves.

While my students were dancing, smiling, and laughing and they reminded me that they all still had the spirit of children in them. I sat. I smiled. My heart was glad.

I had tears in my eyes. I was glad that I had the opportunity to see the students like this. I was glad I saw their child-like natures. It reminded me of their individuality and how honored I am to get to know them and to understand how important their education is to their unique futures.

You may be thinking how silly this is for students in a university to be dancing and running around a classroom. I am sure many of you think that this exercise was a waste of time, tuition money and classroom space. At the time, I realized this was a very important lesson of the semester.

For the rest of the semester it will remind me of my student’s humanity. It will remind me that we are all stewards of each other. It will remind me how lucky I am to be a teacher.

Anne Marie Merline is a faculty member in the University Honors Program. Letters and feedback can be sent to