As another summer draws to a close, I, like many other teachers out there, am filled with a sense of excitement tempered with a strong dose of dread about returning to the classroom to face another school year. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of my 23rd year as a teacher, and I’m entering this year with the expectation that it might be my last year in the profession. The possibility that my days in the classroom are waning have afforded me the opportunity to look back on what I believe to be “my role as a teacher” and “where I’d like to see change in my teaching methodology.”
We can all remember a magical teacher in our lives who unlocked our potential and nurtured us to be not only better students but also better people. For me, it was my grade 3 teacher, who as a recent immigrant from Ireland, seemed to tower over all of us as he delivered lessons in his thick Irish brogue. His wry sarcasm was a breath of fresh air in our conservative Catholic elementary school. In addition to being my teacher, he was also my cross country coach, and it was his love of running that kindled something in me that eventually grew into my passion for long distance running that has been both a refuge and and salvation throughout the difficult times of my life.
Having a firm grasp of your subject, or curriculum, is but a small part of what constitutes a “successful” teacher. More than many other professions, being an effective teacher is all about “making connections” rather than imparting knowledge. To be honest, there have been times in my teaching career when I consider myself to have been a great teacher, but there are also times when I was indeed less effective. Coming to terms with that deficiency in my teaching has not been easy, but it is rooted in times when I’ve been “disengaged” from my students. It’s this disengagement that allows me to rationalize all sorts of disingenuous behaviors that in a sense rob my students from unlocking their true potential.
During the past 2 years, I’ve lost my love of teaching, and as a result, the love for my students. Intuitively, I know that I have had a huge impact on my students’ sense of empowerment and that I continue to be a beacon in their lives. The question is as I enter what may be my last year in the classroom, what can I do to rekindle the spark in me, and therefore, become re-engaged with my students? I have the pleasure of working with adult “newcomers” to Canada, who are not only grappling with the language but also navigating the nuances of a new culture. There is no doubt that this group of students is sensitive to my mood and approachability. The most important life skill I’ve learned during the past four months in my treatment program for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse is the need to “embrace vulnerability” in all aspects of my life, and in all relationships in my life. I was always taught that vulnerability is weakness, when in fact, it is the most authentic manifestation of courage.
When I return to the classroom tomorrow, I will engage my students through the lens of vulnerability and I will strive to show them that what they “fear” the most may actually be their “greatest assets”. Removing some of that false armor that I have fashioned around me for years, and allowing the “authentic me” to be present in the classroom will foster real engagement with my students and allow me to be the teacher they need me to be in their lives.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is that it’s never too late for this teacher to become a “student” of his students.