It’s More than Imparting Subject Knowledge
by Cathie Maglio, Blended Learning Specialist
Schools are people— students, principals, deans, librarians, janitorial staff, office staff and teachers. Of all these groups, the teachers are the most influential. They are the largest constant bloc, staying largely intact as students pass through, and they have the most direct contact with students. They are the ones who make the school what it is.
What does it mean to be a teacher? What do teachers do? For the sake of objectivity, I did a search. The Oxford English Dictionary told me a teacher is someone who teaches. That did not expand my understanding much, so I continued my search.
Another site gave me this definition: “A teacher (also called a school teacher or, in some contexts, an educator) is a person who helps others to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.” This made more sense to me. By this definition, anyone can be a teacher, since we have the ability to learn something from everyone we meet.
I started to think about all the teachers I have had, beginning with my parents, who are a child’s first teachers. Then there was my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Tilson. I don’t remember what I learned but I remember going to her house for school. This was before kindergarten was part of the school system. After kindergarten, it was off to the Edwards School for grades 1 – 6. There I had six wonderful teachers who encouraged me to learn and not only taught me academics but also taught me how to interact with others. It was in the 5th grade at the Edwards school that I fell in love with math and decided I wanted to be a math teacher.
In junior high I continued to learn academics from some wonderful teachers like my history teacher, Mr. Carroll. Some others were not as memorable, but I still learned from them. Not everyone is a star. In high school I had two teachers who had the greatest influence on me. Mr. Schack taught chemistry and Mr. Lindsey taught math. These two teachers not only taught me the academics but also made me feel their love for their subjects.
From all the teachers I have had in my schooling, all the teachers I have worked with, and in my own career as an educator, I have learned that being a teacher is more than just imparting subject knowledge to students. A true teacher ignites a love of learning. That kind of teaching is a talent, a gift that not everyone possesses. A person can know the subject but lack the gift to convey its inner mystery to others.
What makes a teacher a mentor? Students do. A student will come to a teacher to talk about a situation in his or her life. The teacher needs to be able to listen without being judgmental, and to help the student see other sides of the issue. Sometimes a word of cautious advice seems needed. The most beloved teachers are those who are approachable and always ready with a listening ear. I’m thinking of one teacher I work with who is a terrific mentor to her students. She is a caring person who takes great interest in her students. She is always ready with a reassuring hug and just the right words of encouragement. I found it hard to believe when I learned that she was once a US Marine!
A few weeks ago, I was administering Accuplacer tests. One girl in the class was not at all interested in her scores. She said that going to college was not part of her plan because she was a nothing and had no future. I was completely taken aback.
A while later I saw her in the library. I sat down and told her I was surprised at what she had said because I believed that she was a somebody and did have a future. I said that there was a way to attend college if she wanted to. She could work and take one or two classes at a time. I said I wanted her to know that she had worth. She said that no one had ever told her that before. That was one of the saddest admissions I have ever heard. I think I made her day. She sure made mine!
Students today face issues I never faced. They need someone they can trust and rely on to be there for them. That person is likely to be someone they see every day, a teacher.
As a teacher, I tell my students that I am there not only to teach them math but also to build their confidence in their ability to do math. I hope that confidence will spill over into other aspects of their lives.
Just as learning is not confined to the classroom, teaching can also happen outside the classroom. Teachers can come in many forms. They can be bosses, supervisors, colleagues, certainly friends. I encourage everyone to acknowledge the teachers in your life and let them know how they have impacted you. I am proud to call teaching my profession. I think all teachers should be.
Other ‘Life Preparedness’ posts found here.