When I look back now at old photos of me in my twenties and early thirties, there was a cold look in my eyes. It is a look that developed in response to a view of life as difficult and onerous. My belief was that I was on my own and had to struggle and fight and strive just to keep my head above water.
And my reality mirrored that belief. Other than my relationship with my son, I took little joy in the experience of living. Of course I went out with friends and on vacation yet those were small punctuation marks in the burden that life was for me then. The bright spots were my relationship with my son and teaching.
Teaching has been my salvation.
When other children were playing doctor or policeman, I played teacher. Something in me always knew, I think, that teaching would be important. It was not my first employment and it will not be my last yet it has in many ways hugely influenced who I have become.
I am a learner. I love to learn and am curious about everything. The challenge for me has been to harness my fleeting attention span and ever moving mind. Exercise and caffeine helped me in my twenties and thirties to focus on the task. My will has always been strong where learning is concerned and that helped too. But only meditation was able to still that negative mind voice, which for years plagued every endeavour. It was not an easy road to learn to meditate yet once learned, focus became simple.
I also had a temper. That was something I learned to manage and did therapy to deal with the anger from a difficult childhood. Now I know how to deal with anger in myself, thus I can help others with theirs That is very important when having to give a consequence to a student – never act out of anger.
Teaching was a creative endeavour for me.
Learning is about doing. In so many classrooms, tasks have little to do with the actual learning. Reading is different of course, and math, yet for history or science only doing, creates true understanding Theory can be given some due, some cursory explanation. Theory will never really explain a chemical reaction one has never seen nor help a student of this century enter into the mindset of a peasant during the French Revolution. These things are accomplished only through experiential learning. I created such experiences for my students – and they understood.
Teaching is about creating the future.
Your students are growing up. Many teachers do not truly understand that those very little ones sitting in their class will one day be the ones helping them at the checkout, drive through or later at the hospital or elsewhere. They are the building blocks of our future community and we need to be doing our best to create a better future. We need to open up their imaginations, not shut them down.
Each student in your classroom is looking at you. They are learning you. Be a good model for your students. Be authentic. You will make mistakes. You will have trouble at some points – show them how these things are dealt with by an adult. If you make a mistake, apologize and do not make the same one again. If you have a weakness – own it. Mine is a difficulty with remembering names. I let them know that up front. I have a name disability, I say. I want to remember your name, so I will always do my best to do so But under times of stress, I get names mixed up. Then they know. If you are not feeling well and struggling – let them know. I say, my patience, which is normally t-h-i-s big is now this big. So they can be aware that if I am a bit touchy, there is a reason. I warn them.
I hold myself to a code – I do not yell (unless there is danger). I do not jump to conclusions. I seek to understand. I am kind. I am honest. I do not waste their time. I do hold them responsible for their actions and for making amends.
I want them to ask questions. I want them to take the initiative. I want them to collaborate and come up with ideas. I want them to imagine things the way they should be. So, I build skills in them and I give them projects where these skills can be used. We need future citizens who are responsible, independent and interdependent, ask questions, take initiative and imagine a better way, don't we? Where are they going to come from if they are not taught?
What teaching should be about – ideally?
Teaching should be about helping people learn to think – creatively, critically, constructively, and to use their imaginations and to trust their instincts. It should be about helping them develop skill in researching and learning about their interests and about establishing a minimum communal knowledge base. It should also be about helping them to know the one person they can make changes to – themselves. It is also about how to get along with and understand others and fostering interdependence – communication, self-regulation, collaboration. It can also be about physical fitness and skills with games.
At present education is sometimes about, some of the above.
Teachers make a difference.
That should read, great teachers make a difference. Great teachers know who they are and like their students. They are keen on helping them learn. They take risks. They take feedback They are willing to be wrong and then to make it right. They persevere at getting things across to all students and reward progress. They deal with misbehaviour effectively. They build relationships with each student and give them feedback so they know what to improve. They inspire their students. Learning can be individual – online would be fine really. Teachers though, make a difference. The right teacher can make a huge difference according to John Hattie. If the teacher is not right for the group or does not bring enough to the table, the results can be disastrous and outlast that year.
I looked at a recent portrait. That cold look in my eyes is gone. There are wrinkles at the corners of my eyes and lines at the sides of my mouth – those are from laughing with my students while we explored things together. The look in my eyes is one of confidence and joy. I know that life is good and that I can meet any challenges that come my way. Each day brings joy and some hurdles. I get over the hurdles and enjoy the rest of the day. I don't have to struggle or fight. I take a moment to pause and consider my options. I use the space between stimulus and response to my advantage and stand in my power. I consider what would be the win:win option, what would be best for all and if not all, than the best possible solution. Then I act.
This is the first year that I have not taught and I am okay with that. I know what I owe to having taught and I also know that I have moved on to another challenge – leveled up, as my students would say. And that is good, we all need to continue learning. Yet I am the first to acknowledge my debt to the field of education. I did what I loved doing and got paid for it! Not everyone can say that. I have been incredibly fortunate.