“And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.”- From Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
Chaucer, in a simple phrase used to describe his Clerk, set the foundation for describing the qualities of an Outstanding Educator. It can be said that an Outstanding Educator is someone who is intelligent, organized, enthusiastic, great with students, compassionate, and responsible; the list can go on. While these qualities are all extremely important, I feel that they cannot be truly effective without one key ingredient, the love…Out of this basic desire to teach can these other qualities grow in a positive, effective manner.
This was a portion of the opening paragraph to the personal essay I wrote when looking for my first teaching job in 1999. Now 14 or so years into this incredibly rewarding and at times frustrating profession, it is funny to look back and realize the only aspect of education that I focused on throughout this entire essay was this concept of having a passion for teaching. Not that passion is not important…while it was the little I knew of the profession then, I do now still believe it is the backbone for success. It is that inner fire, that inner drive, that inner love for something, for anything that pushes us to do more than the minimum, more than the just what’s expected.
But what I’ve learned is that this true love for teaching, for education, has to underscore a belief that all students can learn and that all students deserve to be given opportunities to learn. This sounds simple…however with all the different challenges that face teachers both in and out of the classroom, it is sometimes no easy task. Buying into these beliefs means not letting our own biases or a student’s tough homelife, general apathy towards school, or disability (actual or perceived) get in the way of trying to figure out avenues to invite that student into his/her education. It also means meeting a student where he/she is emotionally, personally or intellectually, honoring and valuing all those pieces of that individual, and then figuring out ways to get the best out of that student.
It means keeping up with all the pedagogical and technical changes that have very much transformed the nature and scope of our profession from one of the ‘traditional’ top down expert lecturing to a silent, attentive room of students in rows to a more decentralized role of a guide facilitating a physical or virtual space that’s filled with groups of students making purposeful noise. It means not ‘teaching’ students what to learn but how to learn, how to, in the words of Galileo, “…help him [man] discover that which lies within himself.” It means accepting new norms for learning: that social learning goes far beyond face to face interactions between students in the same room, that to be literate goes deeper and wider than just being able to read and write,and that to have learning that is language based–surrounding students with reading, writing, speaking and listening can take on a variety of forms that are transformative, powerful, global. It also means being comfortable with all of this, as well as the need to continue to reflect, grow and evolve with the students that this profession serves, or as @gcouros wrote in a recent post when referencing the next ‘game changer’ in education, It is moving from that “fixed” mindset about teaching and learning, and moving to the “growth” mindset.
Ben Franklin wrote, “If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” Passion, like anything, that is taken to an extreme can become dangerous, even debilitating. It is easy to get upset at a decision handed down from an administrator, at a comment made by a frustrated or angry parent, or at some political rhetoric aimed at teachers; the danger here is in allowing these negative forces to influence perspective to derail a teacher from remaining focused, positive, working hard, and moving forward towards helping students. Or on a different side of the same coin, derailing an administrator or school leader from remaining focused, positive, working hard, and moving forward towards helping teachers help students. The gift Franklin’s ‘reason’ gives is the logic, the ability to ‘make sense of things’ that helps in cutting through the raw, sometimes blinding emotion and getting to the important work of figuring out how to help students become independent learners and thinkers…become active, engaged, civic minded and informed members of society.
Once again, a charge that sounds simple…yet at times can be very tough to own and upon which to act. However, if we, much like Chaucer’s Clerk, do “…gladly…lerne and gladly teche”, then we’ll be well on our way to a ‘Canterbury Cathedral’ of our own.