Teaching With Love: In Memory of Richard Lakin

Originally posted at Capturing the Spark, my EdWeek Teacher blog, on November 4, 2015. There are some wonderful comments posted there as well.

Hilary Levine, Manchester GATE Elementary, Fresno, CA.

Hilary Levine, Manchester GATE Elementary, Fresno, CA.

“Loving teachers, like loving parents, encourage students to do their best, engage them in active learning, praise children for their accomplishments, help them learn from mistakes, set limits when needed and place a priority on nurturing self confidence. Furthermore, loving teachers help their students to aim high, while creating an accepting atmosphere and emphasizing positive personal relationships and basic values of kindness, consideration, cooperation and thoughtfulness. 

“Without an expression of this caring, loving feeling when working with kids, teachers and their students are all left lifeless and without much meaning at the end of the day. When all is said and done, teaching must be first and foremost an act of love!”      

– Richard Lakin

Educator and author Richard Lakin reached out to me through social media about six years ago, and asked me if I’d consider reading and reviewing his book, Teaching as an Act of Love. He had found my bio online somewhere, and guessed correctly that I might be interested in his work. Richard introduced the book as, “neither a diary nor a chronology but rather kaleidoscopic glimpses through my eyes, heart and mind into the life and times of the schools and communities where I spent the better part of six decades.” In my review, I wrote:

When Lakin describes how he negotiated with students and their teacher to reach a mutually acceptable solution to a problem […], we can see the benefits that follow from his willingness to change his mind and to consider the children’s feelings as a relevant factor in running a school. Lakin continuously asserts that his success in this situation – and in the larger context of promoting goals like conflict resolution and school literacy – came not from having guidelines or standards that were handed down “from the office,” but from remaining faithful to a belief that we must educate from the heart.

We struck up a correspondence for a few months, exchanging lengthy emails at first, and later many shorter messages via social media and blog comments. It would have been nice to meet in person at some point, but Richard lived in Jerusalem, and had been living there for 25 years already by the time we were writing back and forth in 2010-11. Having lived in Israel myself for one year long ago, I feel an affinity for the place, which added to the sense of connection that formed over shared interests and values.

Living in Israel for so long, Richard observed firsthand the challenges of achieving peace among nations and religions. His outlook was optimistic, and he was continually active in concrete efforts to promote mutual understanding and yes, love, among people of different religions and ethnic backgrounds.

On October 14, a terrorist attacked Richard Lakin on a bus in Jerusalem, stabbing him multiple times and shooting him in the head. He died on October 27, and was buried the next day. On Facebook, the outpouring of concern, and later, mourning for Richard Lakin, came from many corners. There were former students, now in their 30s and 40s, recalling Richard as their kind and caring principal in elementary school, along sentiments, recollections, prayers and condolences from his former colleagues, friends, family, and people like me who only knew Richard through his writing and social media.

All of which has me ruminating on this idea of love. Richard’s death is tragic, but his family members have said multiple times that there’s no solution, no way forward that’s grounded in anything other than love.

I’m fortunate that I’m not faced with the challenge of upholding such idealism in the face of terrorism in my neighborhood. But what would it look like if I, if any us in education, uphold Richard’s ideals in schools? Nothing should stop us from trying. Are we able to frame our choices and make difficult decisions with love in mind? It’s easy when we truly love our students – and we often do. What would it look like, however, if we met the most challenging situations as if we loved the student, or parent, or colleague who challenges us?

I’m not suggesting that we must truly love everyone; that must be impossible for most of us. Certainly, we’d be better off if we consistently considered how we’d respond to situations if we did so out of love for the people involved, and then proceed accordingly. Even if genuine feeling isn’t driving the decision, letting love be your guide seems not only humane, but actually, more professional.

Teaching as an act of love epitomizes all of the joys and some of the key challenges of our profession. I have Richard Lakin to thank for introducing “love” to my professional vocabulary, as I strive to honor his legacy through my practices. May his memory be for a blessing.

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