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
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