Teach With Gusto

I am a licensed teacher in my home state Colorado.  I have spent most of my working adult years working with students in different settings.  Everybody is a teacher in some way, even if you don’t get compensated.  The stuff below is but a few talking points of what I think it means to be an educator in America in this time and place.

DISCLAIMER: My list here is fairly subjective and stems from the things I have observed and learned while working with kids of all ages.  I am not trying to set scientific data, nor craft a thesis, nor telling you what to believe about education.  Take it or leave it for what is worth.

  1. Once upon a time I arrived upon the world naked and screaming, in need of a mother, a diaper, and a good teacher
  2. The most fundamental plot in life: boy meets girl.  boy and girl fall in love.  Boy and girl live happily ever after.  The second most fundamental plot:  Human becomes teacher, student meets teacher.  Student and teacher accuse each other of ignorance and indifference.  A committeee gets set up after school hours to study the phonetic components of the words “ignorance” and “indiference.”
  3. Most kids are teachable
  4. Kids will learn best when you create the optimal conditions for learning.  One of those conditions is having plenty enthusiasm and showing it.
  5. Many teaching and learning problems are due to character flaws, not intellectual or cognitive incapacity.  You will go astray if you think that teaching is all about filling heads with knowledge.  Kids are not Dixie cups!  Teaching is more like kindling flames (so Socrates).  Hopefully you will succeed at this and the fire gets passed around to contribute something worthwhile in this world of pain and suffering.
  6. If the problems in education were due to lack of money, those problems would have been solved in the time before continents drifted.  There is no way that the most advanced and resourceful nation in the history of the world (i.e. the US of A) is unable to fund needy schools and continue to pay teachers slave wages while Jose Pro Football’s paycheck resembles a foreign phone number.  The problem is not inability, but unwillingness on the part of the bureaucrats who would rather spend the money elsewhere.
  7. Politicians are the least qualified to solve the educational conundrums that plague us now.  They don’t understand teachers and teaching, let alone the students who are served daily by loving and sacrificial teachers who give much and receive very little in terms of compensation and recognition.
  8. Some problems in education also stem from weak leadership in the schools, districts, boards, etc.  The ignorance and indifference found in the much essential parental element also does little to alleviate the ailments of poor performance and zero achievement.
  9. If inspiring students to learn was so essential a part of education I wonder  why teaching prep programs don’t offer more inspirational speech courses.  Teachers don’t have to inspire you.  By signing up to school you and your parents are explicitly giving consent to learn, stay put, be responsible, respect those in authority, return your homework, etc.  Otherwise anything goes and classrooms degenerate into self-focused groups that demand that teachers and administrators cater to their agendas, fancies, whims, and self-esteem.  The role of teachers is limited.  They are not to be your psychologist, clown, cheerleader, parent, and God forbid, your boyfriend and girlfriend.
  10. Defining a school by its sports programs is like defining them by ice cream; you can only keep people motivated as long as you keep the ice cream cold and hard while waiting to sell it.  Nothing wrong with sports, but they are not to be at the top of a school’s agenda.
  11. Standardized testing.  A tool of bureaucrats to perpetuate a pre-set notion of what students ought to know and what teachers ought to do.  Like bureacrats knew better!
  12. Being a teacher is like working in a cemetery: There are people under you who are not inclined to listen
  13. This is an extension of twelve.  Perhaps the richest places in the planet are found in cemeteries.  Lots of untapped potential has gone there, never to return and make a difference in the world where it counts.  By this I am saying that talent is nothing without due effort and discipline.
  14.  As Plato says, when you are drowning you desperately in need of oxygen.  If we as a society don’t value education and appreciate teachers and learners, very little effective teaching and learning will happen.
  15. Being a teacher feels sometimes like giving somebody a haircut.  You are furiously cutting away and trying your best to give your customers a fine look while the subject of your task sits there passively, daydreaming, talking and staring at the phone, and wishing that you are soon done so that she can get on with the REAL business of living.  Haircuts are messy and so we want to avoid the inconvenience as much as possible.
  16. Students can’t follow a parked car.  Get moving.  You are it. You are the greatest resource students have, not Google, Facebook,  and Wikipedia. You are The leader and CEO of your classroom, not the principal, not the parents, and absolutely not the kids.  You set the tone of the classroom.
  17. Ocassionally your job will feel like you have to swap a heavily crapped diaper from an uncooperative, belligerent soiled brat.  He knows it and he is testing you and as a bonus will gleefully mock that you are disgusted by the smell of his disorderly conduct.  All I can say it hang tough my friend.  Say your prayers and learn to deploy some graceful creativity, solo and in cooperation with your fellow instructionistas.  You are gonna need it.
  18. Teaching and learning is more than a science.  You have to master the artistic component of it too.  After determining your parameters you must strike forward into defining and refining your teaching craft.  It won’t do to have it all nailed down to a strict science.  Go beyond the ABC’s because the alphabet has 24 letters.
  19. Some educators out there carry a lot of weight merely by the sheer strength of their charisma,  imposing presence and voice, eloquent speeches, theatrics, antics, gimmicks, and the use (or abuse) of emotional/ psychological devices.  The right way to do education transcends those categories and it is entirely possible that Joe and Jane plain and simple can be successful if they adopt the best tools of the trade, learn to adapt to change, and value their own mission for the sake of changing lives.
  20. Really, do your planning and set out to teach.  What is going to happen if you absolve yourself from responsibility?  Zero, nada, negative balance, bad karma, the hot place of many religions (metaphorically), failing students and the perpetuation of the status quo that says that all movement and striving for reform is fatal, futile, irremediable and irreversible.  I have heard this since the time dogs could speak and write.  Just hang out long enough in the negative forums located in the lounge and the cynical commentariat in cyberspace and I promise you will take cognizance of the bitter and angry ranting and raving that rages there
  21. May the force be with you and don’t forget to do your teaching with gusto

Why Jesus is not a religion

Once upon a time I quit drinking, beating up my wife, and got religion instead.

For most people in America the plot I am outlining points to the phenomenon of giving up some obvious vice and replacing it with a couple of hours of sitting on a pew before an audience of sacred music singers and listening to a preacher rant and rave about everything that is wrong with the world and you.

Whatever the merits of such weekly exercise, it can not possible be the bottom line of everything that Jesus Christ stood for.  Jesus was not the founder of a new religion, which he designated as Christianity and rolled into a package of seven sacraments and ten hail Mary’s.  This is the caricature Hollywood enjoys promoting and ridiculing to the detriment of honest seekers.

Religion more or less is about the things I need to do to earn heaven, Nirvana, the 72 virgins, and avoid the hot temperature down there. In America therefore religion is about Sunday (or Saturday, or Ramadan) morning and my funeral.  If I consider myself civilized and well-mannered, I am not supposed to bring my religion to work, to school, or among polite company because all that stuff is a private matter of the heart.  I should keep it to myself and not impose it on any one out of respect for their dignity.  That is good religion, but it is not Christianity.  Christianity is demanding, sacrificial, and it entails telling others.  Therefore, if I am a sincere Christian, I do not have the option of keeping it all to myself.  The Founder has not left that option open.   When somebody finally discovers a vaccine against cancer and AIDS, I doubt she will keep it to herself.  Good news is supposed to  be passed around, not boxed in.  More of that anon.

The way we do politics and religion has a way of putting Christ at a disconnect.  I tire of hearing that Jesus isn’t about politics.   We want our Jesus and our State, solo and separate thank you very much.  The two shall not never intermix.  So said Jesus:

“Give Caesar what is due to Caesar, and to God what is God’s.”

“My Kingdom is not of this world.”

Problem is Jesus wasn’t preaching  a separation of church and government, a la Thomas Jefferson. The idea of separation of church and state was popularized by Jefferson in a letter he addressed to a Baptist Association in Connecticut in 1802.  The Constitution does say that government ought not to establish a national church, as England and other countries had done.  Everyone is free to pick or refuse to worship as they like.   From this notion there has emerged the massive schemes and rhetoric that one ought to keep Christ out of government, schools, law courts and the like.  Christ has no bearing there because these institutions are trying to do things that are practical, whereas Christ is concerned with the concerns of the soul and what happens to you after you die.

Schools and government are trying to educate and order people’s affairs or minds or whatever.  But that is exactly what Christ intends to do: to educate people, to bring order into a disordered world, to usher justice where injustice prevails, and to arrange people’s affairs!  Jesus is very political.  That his kingdom is not of this world means that it is of a different kind.  He is not denying he has a kingdom, but exactly the opposite!  Giving Caesar what is of Caesar can hardly mean that one ought to keep religion out of politics whereas the affairs of the church are to be kept in designated sacred buildings for a few hours a week, and the two shall never cross.

But theocracy is a nasty word.  It conjures up images of fiery inquisitions, torture wheels, self-righteous prigs burning heretics at the stake, and wars and crusades on infidels who deserve punishment for not conforming to my holier-than-thou religious dogmas.  History provides plenty witness of the hideous effects of church and state getting in bed.  Hardly anybody I knows thinks that is a noble form of fornication that we ought to endorse.  When the church gets political power, it normally goes up its head.  A head full of power sometimes means a heart hollow, stripped of compassion and love.  The German church thought it was getting into a good deal when it decided to align itself with the Führer.  Wrong headed church.  Because Mr. Mustache had zero intentions to advanced the Gospel of love and kindness on behest of the church.  He had his own agenda of hate and genocide and quite eagerly he recruited the church in his insane policy of mass destruction and chaos, no the other way around.

Power is not wrong in and of itself.  We need power to keep things in check.  The alternative is anarchy and the predation of the weak by the strong.  God won’t endorse that kind of world.  So what of Jesus then?  Is he simply to be a shepherd of the heart and the comforter of our souls for when we die?  No, no, that is a very domesticated Jesus, a very non-political Jesus who has no bearing on social life or the affairs of nations.  That is the Jesus of Sunday school, old women’s convents, and people dying with a bad conscience.  Jesus refuses to be strapped into that kind of straight jacket.  Meek and mild Jesus is a very dangerous man if we allow him to strip the blindfolds that make us not see his real power.  However, the world is not yet ready to have that kind of Jesus.  We don’t want the Jesus of the Apocalypse, the powerful roaring lion, sword clad Jesus who judges and slays the unrighteous.  We want our Jesus low profile, lamb-like, manageable, gentle, non-political, non-threatening.   That would be  a Jesus we can control.  And religion is all about us having control.  Christ on the other hand, is to rule the nations (Psalm 2).