Sunday, January 1, 2012

Teachers' Gifts to Students

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 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.


Mira que luna said...

Happy New Year from Madrid (Spain).
I agree with you. Children usually absorb everything we do. We should be very careful with our attitudes because a lot of people are around us learning from our behaviours.
Thanks a lot for sharing your experience.
I'm a mature student of English.
Let me know if you find any mistake, please.
Best wishes,

Carmen Martín

Anonymous said...

My name is Heather and I work for Worth Ave. Group. We’re currently holding a contest for K-12 teachers to win grants for their schools, and iPads or iPods for their classrooms. If you’re interested in participating, feel free to email me or visit the link I’ve posted below.
Have a great day!

Mark Rabbitt said...

I happened to stumble upon your site when my google search lead me to a database that contained the links to what they claimed to be the 50 up-and-coming educational blogs. I was initially drawn to this site because of the title "The Dream Teacher," and I am glad that I took the time to read what you had posted. The concept that plaques me and the one that forces me to always reflect on is what type of difference am I making with my students. I understand that they will always think that I was funny, but what did I teach them? What did they learn? How did I truly impact their lives?

After four years of teaching I have realized that they will not remember that I taught them what an appositive is or what the function of a participle is. What they will remember is the way I presented myself, my mannerisms, my outlook on life, the way I treated people, and the stories that I told them.

I began to understand this concept the other day when my students were working on a research project. We had been working on the assignment for the past three weeks, and the week leading to Christmas break the students were putting the finishing touches on their work. One of my students, Nadien, was having difficulty conveying an idea in her last body paragraph. The topic of her paper was on the struggles of Muslims to assimilate themselves into American culture after 9/11. She asked me her question and we got into a discussion on multiculturalism and the spread of Islamic culture throughout the western hemisphere. We discussed such ideas as cultures being destroyed because of the population increase of Muslims, the exclusiveness of the Middle East from allowing non-Islamic people from immigrating into countries, and the idea of white culture feeling guilty for expressing any concern about multiculturalism around the world. The conversation lasted for the entire block (90 minutes) and I noticed at the conclusion of our discussion that half of my class had gathered around to listen to our discussion. Besides when I tell my toilet papering story, I have never caught the attention of students like I did that day, and it had nothing to do with the subject matter I teach, but I know that it will be a moment that will never be forgotten.

It is the way in which we communicate our feelings, ideas, beliefs with those around us that has the greatest impact on what is learned by our students.

Anonymous said...

My name is Heather and I work for Worth Ave. Group. We’re currently holding a contest for K-12 teachers to win grants for their schools, and iPads or iPods for their classrooms. If you’re interested in participating, feel free to email me or visit the link I’ve posted below.
Have a great day!

Elijah Jatovsky said...

This a moving post, and I completely agree that one of the most valuable gifts a teacher can give is an education of how to live in the world.

With this in mind, I think you might find a project I created called National Connect ( to be of interest. The project pairs high schools of different backgrounds and students from these schools educate one another about their lives and beliefs. I am encouraging teachers to incorporate this project into their curriculums because, as you said, one of the most important gifts a teacher can give is how to be a respectful and good citizen.