We live in a global economy that requires our students to be prepared to think both
critically and creatively, evaluate massive amounts of information, solve complex
problems, and communicate well. A strong foundation in reading, writing, math, and other core subjects is still as important as ever, yet by itself is insufficient for lifelong success.
For too long, we have committed to time structures, coursework, instructional methods, and assessments designed more than a century ago. Our current definition of student success is too narrow.
What works best for students? What must we all—educators, families—do to ensure their success? Answering those questions pushes us to redefine what a successful learner is and how we measure success. Let’s drive the point closer to home. What have I done to ensure the success of my learners?
While mulling over this, I came across this quote:
“The best part of teaching is that it matters. The hardest part of teaching is that every moment matters, every day.”
I love this quote. It reminds me why I teach. More importantly, it reminds me that the best things in life require hard work.
At first I thought of it purely from an instructional standpoint – every minute of every class period matters.
But on second thought, I looked at it from a relationship standpoint – every interaction with every student matters, every day.
Oh, I learned early on that being unprepared creates chaos that throws off the whole day, but I also learned that the relationships you build with students carry a lot more weight than most people realize.
I don’t want to downplay the academics of teaching. You have to be prepared. We’ve all had that teacher who flies by the seat of his/her pants. (I must admit I sometimes do this.) My best (worst?) memory is the college professor who walked in the first day of class 14 minutes late, looked around at us and said, “Oh, my, I forgot my syllabus,” and then turned and left to get them.
But I firmly believe that no matter how well you know your content, if you don’t build relationships with students, you miss a lot of those moments that matter.
I think I’ve done a fairly good job of building them up over the years. I know there are students I just didn’t connect with, no matter what I did. Reality is no teacher can be THE teacher for every student, but I try very hard to be a teacher they remember in a positive light.
I’m human, so I know I haven’t always accomplished this. Looking back, I can think of a few trainees, well, more like classes that I failed.
I used to be more pedantic in my approach towards teaching. It is ironic that up until I took this class, I never thought I had an Idealist approach towards education. I’d always thought I was more of a progressivist, but we can only live what we have seen and what has been modeled to us. As they say, you can’t teach what you don’t know. Back then, I used to wonder why I always got low marks in my evaluations in terms of teacher-student rapport. I had no qualms about giving a trainee a failing grade without taking into consideration that the student might not have understood the material and needed me to re-teach it. I hadn’t realized that being an effective teacher was not just a sum of what I knew and what I taught but also how I taught and how I managed the classroom and addressed the needs of my learners. I realized that teaching is not a matter of reading from a textbook, or dictating notes, but a participatory process. Over the years, I’ve learned to loosen up. I interact more with the class, I socialize more with my trainees both in and out of the training room. It’s still a struggle, I must admit, but I learned to view it as a hat that I put on in order to play the role of a trainer. It has made me more effective as a trainer. I have come to realize that teaching is not a matter of reading from a textbook, or dictating notes, but a participatory process. I remember my manager telling me that an intelligent trainer does not equate to being an effective trainer because his/her intelligence makes him/her unattainable and unrelatable.
I realized that this nitpickery and this propensity to be sententious and trenchant had turned me into the very monster-teacher I had purported not to be. By being such, I have robbed my learners of their passion, intellectual curiosity and depth. I’ve taught them to regard their education not as an opportunity to develop their character, but as just another credential, an algorithm to be cracked in order to get to the next level. I’ve developed students who are anxious, depressed and grade-conscious.
I am a product of such a system. This system produces students who expect success, and expect it now. They have, by definition, never experienced anything else, and their sense of self has been built around their ability to succeed. The idea of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them, defeats them. They’ve been driven their whole lives by a fear of failure–often, in the first instance, by their parents’ fear of failure. The first time I blew a test, I walked out of the room feeling like I no longer knew who I was. The second time, It was easier; I had started to learn that failure isn’t the end of the world. The system forgot to teach me, along the way to prestigious admissions and lucrative jobs, that the most important achievements can’t be measured by a letter, a number or a name. It forgot that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.
If teaching were a superpower, then I guess this would be my kryptonite. I’ve mellowed down over the years. I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously. I’ve learned to talk to my trainees down the hall, on the way to class; conversations that were not content related but life related. It’s funny how talking to them humanized them, humanized me. They were no longer just a bunch of parts in the production mill.
These days, I could be a little bit more casual. It felt good to step out of the glass bubble I’ve encapsulated myself in.
These days, I think about asking “What’s wrong?” or “What’s up?” instead of “Why didn’t you do your homework?” I’m slowly learning to let go of the idea of “teacher as expert”. I realized that I had to in order for my approach to be student-centered. Learning does not happen in isolation, and neither should teaching. Both are inherently social.
It hasn’t been easy, but this is part of my learning and growing. After all, as teachers, our challenge is to match the needs of our learners to a world that is changing with great rapidity. To meet this challenge, we need to become strategic learners ourselves by deliberately expanding our perspectives and updating our approaches.
I’m rewarded when a former student messages me to ask me a grammar question. She knew I would take the time to explain about what made the statement grammatically incorrect.
I’m rewarded when a former gangling trainee looking all spiffy drops by the office unannounced and gives me a cake to celebrate his recent promotion because “you made a difference.”
I am blessed to hear from former trainees. Some of them have kept in touch through the years, and others have reconnected fairly recently. For this reason, I have not changed my mobile number. Social media have played a role in this, and I love it. Every so often, a message pops up on Facebook asking how I’m doing or asking if I could accommodate their cousin/neighbor/ friend in my class because he/she wanted to work in a call center but needed to work on his her communication skills. I enjoy getting to see the paths they have taken and know I played even a small part in that.
I also love to hear what they remember from our class. It is often something very specific, something I don’t even remember doing or saying, but it obviously made a lasting impression on them. And that always makes me realize how everything I say and do within the classroom can build up or tear down a student. These are the things that tell me I made a difference.
It’s easy to teach curriculum. The hard part is teaching the child.