This post has been inspired by the young man I reference in the title. He was not challenging me; rather, he was sinking into the expectations of what he thought a language classroom would be like. And I get that because too many of us have tucked education into some tiny box of what was “necessary” or “mandatory” but came to an end, and thank God for that. When I think of him, I smile because once he was awake, my class dramatically changed. And I changed.
I’ve been in different teaching contexts since I was 19. I’ve been a tutor/mentor since high school. I’ve been a pretend teacher since as long as I can remember. There is no escaping it: I love teaching and as a result of this love, I remain dedicated to the (language) teaching creed that I am still trying to create, but here is what I have so far:
1. While you may think you have seen it or heard it all, you haven’t. Approach every situation with the informed experience you carry -which makes you special- but treat it with the care that it deserves and the uniqueness it presents.
2. No activity, lesson, or class has to be boring. Rather, they can only be improved. And should be improved.
3. A book is not a curriculum. A grammar is not a curriculum. A list of rules is not a curriculum. The world is your curriculum.
If the theories and laws of physics or any “hard science” must be extracted from and tested in their environment, so must something like language. Yet, the beautiful thing about language is that it changes, so be careful with those fancy little things you call a “rule.”
4. Never say, “Because that’s the way it is.” There must be some kind of story or evolution or reason behind a word, or change in word, or exception to the rule. Whatever it is that your student asks, it is your teacher duty to help them find an answer, or at least formulate a conjecture.
5. If in fact the content is boring (because you have to teach to a test or its based on a grammatical syllabus), that there is the problem. Not you, not the students, perhaps not even the immediate school you are a part of which is a part of a complex system entrenched in power dynamics stretching to the capitalist corporations that, unfortunately, many education systems are based on or are preparing their students for as though it is some inevitability. What’s more, all along the way we have personal (and rather uncontrollable) constructs like egos and greed to combat. Your best antidotes? Kindness and grace, always. And usually your ear before your mouth. What I’m saying is that there is a lot out there to fight for and against, and as teachers we must continue in the struggle for education justice.
6. The sleeping student just has to be awakened.
7. The defiant student just has to be seen.
8. Self-blame, self-criticism and embarrassment never help an individual (to grow, to develop, to improve, to become more THEM), so why do many systems teach that those emotional weapons will create a culture of respect in the classroom? Respect built on fear always burns itself to the ground. Trust, humor, and self-reflection seem to be ways that I help myself and the way that I help students help themselves. I’d rather rise into the infinite sky with those around me than live in paranoia that at some point, someone will try to take me down.
9. There will always be a role for a teacher, even if the role changes in time. And it should change in time.
10. My “skills” and “knowledge” will become obsolete and they should become obsolete because this shrinking world challenges everything we thought we once “knew.” But what have we ever “known?” Despite this perplexing, infinite complexity, my overarching teacher personality that embodies (or so, I hope embodies) compassion, patience, open-mindedness, creativity, grit, resiliency, and commitment to my students, my colleagues, and my profession shall remain timeless. (Oh, time, you confusing concept, you…).
11. You just never know until you try or until you ask. (Yes, anonymous feedback, evaluation, and suggestions are powerful. ) To obviate trepidation, you must always believe:
12. I don’t know everything, nor will I ever. Help me to understand more.
13. I choose this profession not for the glory, the fame, the money, but for the sheer delight that every day I am a little bit smarter and kinder by virtue of what I “do.”
14. Oh, I will make mistakes. Plenty of them. And so will your students. But I am not who I was, and neither are your students. It is how we react from our past that defines who we are now and who we will be. Your students must know that you believe this, too.
15. Read in front of your students. Always have a book on you or in front of you so that your students can see it. If we are trying to a create a culture of literacy, then we must live it. (Extend this to any other principle you believe like a healthy lunch.) It’s more fun to be asked questions about habits (connected to convictions) rather than telling them.
17. If my students wanted to hear me talk all day, they would tell me to make a podcast and they would subscribe to it. I’m in the business of student-talk, and I am committed to helping them reveal their voices: art, songs, acting, games, blogs, essays, story-telling, one-on-one conferences, extracurricular activities; there is a way for me to hear you and I am committed to finding the outlet.
18. I can’t tell you much about the correct grammatical sentences my students randomly produced as a result of some de-contextualized and adapted material, but I sure can tell you their stories, their reactions, their opinions and how they changed before my eyes, and how they changed me. Anyway, it’s probably best that you hear their stories because
19. A real teacher listens. A real teacher helps someone find answers within themselves. A real teacher presents a quilt of texts, images, media, ideas, experiences, stories, quotes, and says, “Now you find you more; now you decide.”
The small man
builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
who has to duck his head
when the moon is low,
keeps dropping keys all night long