Bringing My Whole Self

My mouth went dry as I looked out at my classmates. I hovered near the podium as my professor pulled up my slides.

“Okay, you’re all set,” he said.

I took a deep breath and launched in.

“I will use my disability story of to talk about my Professional Ethics. As I prepared this presentation, the four ethical areas that arose were inclusion, confidentiality, justice, and equitable change,” I began. “…regardless of our brokenness, we are all valuable. Several years into my work as a Disability Specialist, food made me feel awful. I took naps under my desk at lunch.”

My mind went blank. I looked back at the screen with my slides. I took a deep breath and turned back to my classmates.

“I eventually ended up going to the ER. I found out I have a digestive condition called Crohn’s Disease.”

Quotes from Readings

The critical pedagogy readings were full of rich content, but I want to focus on two quotes that prompted my introductory story:

I am confirming that a student comes into the classroom as a whole [emphasis added] person and should be respected and treated as such. However, the degree to which this is possible is directly linked to a teacher’s willingness and ability to be fully present [emphasis added] and in possession of the capacity to enter into dialogical relationships of solidarity with students, parents, and colleagues. (Darder, 2002, p. 98)

Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-on-who-teachers, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. [emphasis added] (Freire, 1993, p. 74)


I have a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling. I spent years serving college students with disabilities at higher education institutions. My counseling background prompted me to always focus on my students’ needs. Thus, I did not tell students about my digestive condition, even when I met with students who had the same condition. However, I did share unofficial advice on proactive planning, medication delivery, and finding specialists.

When I went back to school full-time for my doctorate, one of my professors talked about bringing my “whole self” to my work. I never heard of this concept. The other students in my class also talked about inviting their students to be their full selves. As the class progressed, my professor and my classmates discussed their identities in relation to the course readings. Everyone was free to be themselves in this course. This mutual learning environment new for me. I grew during that semester and by the end of the class told the group about my digestive condition. It was the first time I told a large group this part of my disability story.

My professor’s teaching style that semester relates to the Freire and Darder quotes above. Rather than funneling facts into our brains, my professor created a reciprocal learning environment. We all had a chance to share our thoughts and insights from the course content. My professor engaged with all of us as people who had valuable insights to share. I learned as much from my professor in this course as I did from my peers.

When I teach classes in the future, I hope to create mutual learning environments where students feel comfortable being their full selves. I now tell students about my disabilities at the start of the semester. I do not go into great depth about the characteristics of my disabilities, but I do explain them briefly. Students seem willing to engage with course content on a deeper level after I share about my disabilities. Thus, I plan to continue to bring my entire self to my classes.


Darder, A. (2002). Chapter 3: Teaching as an Act of Love: The Classroom and Critical Praxis. In Reinventing Paulo Freire: A pedagogy of love (pp. 91-148). Boulder, CO: Westview.

Freire, P. (1993). Chapter 2: The “Banking” Concept of Education. In Pedagogy of the oppressed (pp. 67-79). New York, NY: Continuum.

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