I once popped into a professor’s office and asked him if he was looking forward to the start of school: “Not really, it gets in the way of my work.”
This was deflating.
Class loomed with a person that viewed teaching me as in the way of his writing and research. Sadly, I knew he was right. His work was important and cramming a version of it into my head, much simplified, was unlikely to help him or at least that was his claim.
Who was I to doubt him?
And yet I have had teachers, from Fount Shults to Deborah Modrak that did both: they wrote important works and taught brilliantly. I was not in the way of their work. What made the difference?
I must know because I am about to teach in two weeks and want to be a great teacher and because this week I will meet master teacher and lifelong mentor: Al Geier. And for my own children, we remain homeschool parents who want to teach those we love best: our kids.
And I have come to a conclusion: teaching isn’t anybody’s work who should be teaching.
Teaching is a gift given and a gift you give.
The work is the faculty meetings that they make you attend, the forms that must be filled out, the tests or evaluations that measure nothing but your tenure, and any textbook that must be used. For these things, nobody is paid enough. If you are a home educator, nobody pays you ever, but you too have paperwork and even less appreciation.
Your students are not replenished and your challenges change with every year.
So what did good teachers give me and what should I strive to give?
Curiosity. Teachers are not self-satisfied, because they want to know. All humans by nature desire to know, but each year of government school decreases curiosity. Teachers fight this drift, at least good teachers do. Let’s face it: teaching to the text or test, marching through the curriculum, marking time to retirement isn’t teaching at all.
Curiosity can be cultivated, though it is hard to restore if the mind has been despoiled. Teachers begin where students are, but also show where students could or should be.
Questions. Asking questions is necessary and easy, but hard to do well. Teachers craft questions and encourage students to ask better questions themselves. How to begin? I don’t know.
And that is another truth teachers taught me to say.
Guidance. Truth is out there and some wise people have done better at finding it. Read Symposium, no really
Data. While epistemic modesty is good, some have too much about which to be modest. Facts matter and the ability to get the facts quickly is a great strength of our time. However, if we lack data in our own minds, judging the value of other data is hard. Lack of this kind of knowledge also means we make our snap daily judgment out of ignorance.
Teachers expose students to the facts and motivate them to learn at least some of them.
Time. The most valuable thing my teachers gave me was their time. Why do home school parents do so well? I think it is because it is the most expensive form of education: two adults spend all their time helping a relatively tiny number of children.
Teachers know even a moment of attention in class is powerful.
Excitement. My best teachers were never bored. I have met people that embraced evil, but have not yet met a soul that wished to be bored. My best teachers may have struggled with boredom in the privacy of their hearts, especially with us, but they never showed it. I had the feeling my world might change in every class.
Isn’t this charity applied to one particular task? Teachers love their students. I am thankful for the gifts they have given me. I long to give a good gift in return.