I hope there are some adults in the world right now who can look back to middle school and think that I taught them a little something. I also hope there are a few high school students out there who are using reading strategies I taught as they now tackle the work that will enable them to graduate and live happily ever after. Sadly, I know I taught a few how to take a test: Read every answer. Don't mark the first one you come to that you think is correct. The directions ask you to choose the BEST answer....so read them ALL!
But after a recent conversation with my daughter, I've been enlightened to a bigger gift that teachers can give their students - an understanding of how to live in the world.
My daughter is on her way to interviews for an internship she'll need to complete for her doctorate in psychology. As we talked about potential questions she may be asked, we discussed her ability to work with a diverse group of patients. She told me that she's very comfortable working with all kinds of people, a skill she says she gained, in part, by watching her mother, the teacher, teach all kinds of students.
I thought back to a question I was asked during my first Teacher of the Year interview - I was asked how I teach a diverse group of kids. I told the selection committee that I remember back in the early 90's: teachers walked all up and down the halls of the school proudly proclaiming, "I'm colorblind. All of my students look alike to me, and I treat them all the same!"
I went on to tell the committee, as I've told numerous groups of educators since then, that we were all wrong back then...that we must actually SEE color...that we MUST celebrate every student for who they are and where they come from. We cannot, in fact, be colorblind.
I realized when I left that interview that I had raised my voice while answering that question, and I hoped they recognized that what they had heard was passion about a subject that's important to me: accepting all students, not merely the ones who look like me.
Back to the conversation with my daughter...I continued by sharing with her the time I sat with my Jewish student Aaron, who explained to me how he felt about Christianity...about all of the times I asked my Latina girls to share their Quincenera pictures with the class, and about the time I asked my Vietnamese student to share the story of his boat ride to America.
Even now," she said, "you continue to correspond with a student who writes you from jail, a student you have little in common with."
I never realized that my children were watching, learning how to work with others, as I taught school every day. Yes, I did try to explicitly teach them how to treat people, but I didn't think about what they may learn from watching me do my job.
It's with that in mind that I hope all teachers realize they are being watched by others; those youngsters sitting in our classrooms may someday go out and treat the world the way they see us treat it. So it makes me wonder if I always treated others kindly...did I ever roll my eyes when a colleague interrupted my class over something unimportant? Did I ever make a remark in passing that could have been hurtful to a student? Did I ever disregard a colleague or student's feelings?
Sometime during the past thirty years, I'm sure I did.
Who was watching?
And as I became an older, more experienced teacher, did I do a better job of being a role model, accepting of everyone?
I hope we all can. It's the most important gift we can give to our students - an understanding of how they should live in the world.