Each “school year”, I return to one of my (now) favorite teaching moments:

It was my first Foundations in Herbalism class. I had eight eager students and I was determined to create the best experience possible for them.

I started teaching when I was a fifteen-year-old counselor at Gywn Meadows Riding Day Camp and have taught consistently ever since. Whether I was teaching kids to trot their ponies or prioritizing poetry at a Harlem elementary school, sharing knowledge has always come simply to me.

And yet, as I sat down to outline the first day, I was stumped: where to begin? What doorway could I offer to this amazing world where flowers had names and trees whispered their musings in my dreams? How could I open a gateway big enough for this entire class to step through?

A teacher is a portal, a gate-keeper, a guardian. We stand at the crossroads, offer encouragement, and remind you that the next rest stop is 75 miles away.

My outline for the first day of class was done, supplies were on hand, handouts were ready… and still no opening gambit.

I thought back to my classes in Ireland, my time at Sage Mountain, the gorgeous experiences I had had at various festivals… and I had it! I would lead an opening drum circle.

(I’m sure that those of you who know me well are shaking your heads and groaning. And if you’re not already groaning, you might want to start: I was taught to clap when I was 26 years old, making my musician friends crazy with my off-beat noise-making. I’m still unsure whether to clap on 1 & 3 or 2 & 4, so I usually just sway a bit.)

There used to be a great little shop in our neighborhood that had gorgeous objects reminiscent of the theater. I spent a delightful afternoon (and a small fortune) choosing drums, rattles, and tambourines.

On the morning of the first class, I carefully set the scene, putting the chairs in a circle and a blanket in the circle’s center, where I laid out herbs, flowers, rocks, crystals, and, of course, the basket of noise makers. A big drum sat by my seat.

As I surveyed the set-up, I felt a rising sense of panic; I suddenly recalled that I don’t actually know how to drum, or keep a beat, and I am totally intimidated by tambourines.

What the hell was I doing?

Luckily, I was saved from disaster by a student who actually did know how to drum and had led drum circles regularly. And the class went on to have a fabulous year.

It took me a while to give away the drums and the shakers and to admit that banging the mother-drum just wasn’t my thing.

There was a deep longing in me to connect in the way that my teachers had connected, to plug in through the vibration of stomping feet and rattling gourds.

But that wasn’t my doorway. I connect through the vibration of voice, through story and sharing the words of the soul.

We can only open the door to which we ourselves, by our being and existing, are the key. That has been my biggest lesson as a teacher: to simply show up, as myself, and open the door.