Thursday, November 28, 2013

Testing for Teachers

How do you know whether you’re meant to be a teacher? How can you tell if you have what it takes? How can you check or how can others help you evaluate if you’re ready?

Giving a workshop to classroom teachers the other day, I came up a little test to see who's qualified to be a teacher, three signs that this path is right for you and it’s right for the children. One out of three is sometimes sufficient to qualify for the honor of leading children toward their future. Two is better and if you’re not three for three, at least you might consider aiming yourself in that direction. The list:

  1. Love the children
  2. Love your craft.
  3. Love ideas.

Love the children. This is perhaps the beginning and end of the matter. You love being around children, their fresh minds, their energetic bodies, their astoundingly compassionate (or occasionally innocently cruel) hearts. You think about them before and after class.

Love your craft. You’re a science teacher obsessed with the dung beetle, an English teacher enamored by Emily Dickinson, a math teacher who wakes up in the morning to converse with numbers. As a result, your students suddenly are fascinated by the dung beetle, are inspired to write Emily Dickinson-style poems about the dung beetle, are analyzing the syllable structure of Emily’s body of work or are counting the eggs of the dung beetle. Education as infection, the overflow of your passion spilling out to the children.

Love ideas. Education abounds with ideas about the human mind and how it grows, the human heart and how it develops, the human body and how it can be trained for eloquence and expression. It is the place where culture and community can be consciously nurtured (or sadly neglected) and a place found worthy of our great thinkers— neuroscientists, philosophers, poets, psychologists, artists and beyond. One fertile idea can transform an entire classroom as we consider the art and science of teaching.

Some fine teachers love children and never read a single book about education, some like them well enough, but are passionate about pedagogy, some don’t think much about educational philosophy or dream about the children, but show up with their enthusiasm for their subject every day. Lots of combinations possible and worthwhile to reflect on your own teaching style. But one word of advice. If you’re 0 for 3, get out now. You’ll hurt yourself and hurt the children and goodness knows, there’s plenty of other jobs that pay more!

Meanwhile, note the common verb in my list above. A word that is conspiculously absent from the public debate about schools and education. A word that should be evoked at the beginning and end of every teacher-training program. A word that should be uppermost in our mind as we slog through the day-today. Love, love and again, love. That’s why you’re a teacher.

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