Hospitality in the Classroom: On Xenia, Open House, and Parents as Guests

I am thrilled to welcome the first guest post on Dappled Studies. Margaret is a fellow student with me in the Houston Baptist University MLA program, and we’ve shared countless discussions about Arthurian legend, poetry, and teaching. I am grateful that she has chosen to write about on oft-overlooked group when it comes to hospitality in the classroom: parents! 

How fitting that Allison should invite me to write a guest post as she features “Hospitality in the Classroom” on her beautiful blog. She has graciously welcomed me in to her space to share some thoughts, and in doing so has allowed me to ponder and pull together a few truths that have helped shaped my approach to providing a classroom that seeks to be a source of light to students and parents alike.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher from as early as fifth grade when much to the chagrin of my four siblings, I created my own schoolroom in the basement of our home. As soon as summer vacation began, I wanted to “play school” and set up my mini blackboard with stacks of colored chalk ready for clean strokes of cursive. I loved writing on the blackboard! My siblings thought I was out of my mind: “Who does school in summer?” they proclaimed, as they ran for their lives before I could assign them a seat in my classroom.

Eventually, when I did indeed become a teacher, it was very important to me to create a classroom environment that was both welcoming and safe, much like the one my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Schick created. Everyone was loved in her room, even Kevin W. who to no avail she patiently trained all year to organize his messy desk. My desire as a teacher was to also extend hospitality to parents. Early on in the school year, I would get the opportunity to meet them in an evening we all know well, called Open House. Don’t you just love that name?

Open House is often a time of first impressions, and I wanted the parents to know that I would always be open and available for questions or concerns about their child’s time in my class. What I’d like to share are some thoughts about hospitality and in particular about parents as guests in the classroom.

When thinking about hospitality, my mind travels to ancient Greek mythology and the practice of xenia. It can be traced to the god Zeus who was called Zeus Xenios when he assumed the role of protecting travelers. Knowing that Zeus was acting as guardian induced the Greeks to show hospitality to strangers. It was also wise to honor a stranger in the event he was a god in disguise, for great reward might be gifted if he or she were treated properly.

The practice of the guest-host relationship became a ritual for the Greeks and required the host to offer something to eat or drink, and perhaps a bath if needed. The host would make the guest as comfortable as possible and not ask any questions until these needs were met. A departing gift by the host was also in order as a sign that the visit was successful and that the guest was honored. The guest was required to be grateful and respectful and not be a burden to the host.

 

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The Phaeacians welcome Odysseus 

The Odyssey is full of examples of xenia. The extraordinary patience of Telemachus as he serves the suitors who are seeking Penelope’s hand in marriage is proof that he did not wish to displease Zeus and suffer the consequences. The suitors, on the other hand were ungracious guests, eating and drinking in excess and threatening to kill Telemachus. Their irreverent behavior would eventually lead to their demise. My favorite example of xenia in the Odyssey is the kindness of the swineherd, Eumaeus towards Odysseus whom he doesn’t recognize as his former master, but as a travel worn stranger. In a touching display of hospitality, Eumaeus offers his own cloak to keep Odysseus warm at night. The shared courtesy required of xenia speaks to me in regards to how I treat parents as guests in and beyond the classroom.

Firstly, I see the relationship of guest and host as a type of partnership. I am partnering with parents to cultivate virtue and engage the minds of their children. This requires me to have the right perspective in regards to my role. I should not elevate myself above the level of a servant, for in serving properly I am able to provide a gift to the parents: at the end of the year, their child should show signs of growth and maturity

Secondly, the relationship of guest and host requires sacrifice on the part of the host. As a

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Eumaeus and Odysseus

teacher, I need to be willing to anticipate the needs of parents in regards to their child. Some parents need more reassurance about their child’s performance than others. I need to not see their frequent emails or phone calls as an imposition, but as an opportunity to build trust and even instill peace. Eumaeus gave Odysseus his own bed and cloak to ensure a restful sleep.

 

 

Finally, like Telemachus and Penelope sometimes you get some not so thoughtful guests. While in my experience this is rare, there are those times when as a teacher you may experience a disgruntled parent. Oftentimes these people like to invite folks to their misery party, and eventually other parents in the classroom get an invitation. As a host, I realize that I may not always please everyone all of the time, and in these cases I will need to exercise extreme patience and also let those in authority in on the situation. While the analogy gets a bit precarious here–eventually Odysseus took care of the suitors!

 

Margaret White currently mentors in the fullsizeoutput_744rhetoric class at The Covenant Preparatory School in Kingwood, Texas. She is a few short weeks away from completing her Master of Liberal Arts at Houston Baptist University, and looks forward to teaching full time again in the fall. She lives in Houston with her husband Robert, and they have four adult children, including a lovely daughter-in-law. 


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