This I Believe

For this “free choice” blog post, I’ve decided to share my own personal “This I Believe” essay on what it means to be an ideal teacher. You might recall in a previous post, where I talked about how my 10th graders used this essay assignment as a basis for their multimedia presentations of what they “believe”. That project, as it turned out, was one of my students’ favorites of the year. As I move into that COETAIL-inspired project again this year with my students, I thought it fitting to write my own. And so…

“This I Believe”

I believe that an ideal teacher is an active learner, a person who takes initiative, cares to understand and is open to change.  An ideal teacher is a thinker, someone who reflects and sets goals regularly.  This person aims to strike a fine balance – to be both supportive and challenging of herself and of others.

My own personal choice to become an educator stemmed from a sincere, albeit cliche, desire to “make a difference” in the lives of others and with a little luck, the wider world. Before I made the jump to the classroom, a question kept popping into my mind: what will my life’s story be if and when my grandchildren ask?  Will my story be that I spent my life working a job that did not challenge or inspire me? Or, will my story be that I worked to affect positive change in young people, and in the process, explored the world in a way that most  only dream of?

To inspire and light the way

One of the influential figures in my life, especially in terms of my choice to become an educator and in my working philosophy that learning is a lifelong endeavour: Grandma Ruth. An elementary school teacher, Grandma Ruth grew up in small town America – Big Sandy, Montana, to be precise – as a wife and mother to 7 children. After her husband died and the last little one was off to college, she made the courageous decision to go back to college herself and get her teaching degree. Even more inspiring? Not only did she become a teacher in her 50’s, she became an international school teacher, landing her first job thousands of miles from her home. Her first post, much to the chagrin of her 7 grown children (and 22 grandchildren!), was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where she taught elementary school for 7 years. She moved on to Israel and finally to San Salvador, El Salvador. Although she taught for fewer than 20 years (a drop in the bucket for many educators), her legacy remains. For me, Grandma Ruth is one version of the ideal teacher.

It is with this legacy in mind that I approach my classroom – as a place to make discoveries, explore new perspectives and take risks in order to create new connections. The way I see it, the teaching profession is evolutionary and revolutionary. Evolutionary in the sense that, in order to fight the monster of obsoletion, we must adapt. We must do everything we can to insure that we are staying current in our own practice, both pedagogically and technologically. Revolutionary in that we must overthrow the “old ways” of the classroom and replace them with current, research-based strategies that bring meaning and relevancy to content.

One could argue that the teacher’s role has become even more crucial – we are now tasked with teaching students the skills and savvy to negotiate, interpret and analyze the information they access. Ultimately, I believe that the ideal teacher must offer a classroom experience that encourages students to take risks, to think independently and critically and to respond with an open mind to the world around them.

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Photo credit: Luke Elsasser via flickr All rights reserved