The most important lesson

compassionkidsThis is a post I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time now, but never seemed to have time to finish it. As I’ve mentioned before, this is the first year in my teaching journey that I’ve decided to keep a reflections journal. It’s a notebook filled with all the thoughts, emotions and ideas that come to my mind/heart once I finish my classes. I’ve always reflected on my lessons, but it’s the first time I’ve done so in writing and I’m still trying to make sense of the teaching reality it represents. Maybe because ever since I started writing it, I’ve often thought of what constitutes a “good” lesson and whose voice/reality resonates in my teaching practice. Mine or my students’?

We’ve all come across countless posts/quotes/images regarding what great teachers should do. Although I find such posts inspiring, I can’t help but wonder – whose reality do they actually represent? And how is great teaching measured? By which/whose standards? It’s a question I’ve been coming back to over and over again and I feel it’s time we changed our point of perception. Instead of asking ourselves “What makes me a good teacher?” we should start asking “What reality do I shape for my students? What kind of people will my students be? And what is it they need to learn to become the people they want to be?”. Not only for now, but for the rest of their lives.

I’ll never forget something an old friend of mine said to me once. We were out for a drink and I remember bombarding her with the details of a long, frustrating week of lessons going wrong. Once I stopped talking, she told me “What can you do? You’re just an English teacher!” This “just” though felt too little, too superficial for me to accept. It’s a problem I was also confronted with when in a seminar on learning difficulties, one of the psychologists/trainers asked me to define my teaching space by opening my arms as wide as I felt my teaching “space” was. I couldn’t really answer since – once again- I can’t really measure my teaching reality by the width of my arms, but anyway! When I spread my arms wide open, she told me that my teaching space is too big. “You shouldn’t let teaching take up such a great part of your life. Try to make your “space” smaller.” were her exact words.

How can we stop being teachers when we aren’t in our class? Where does the human part of us stop and where does the teaching role begin? Yes, we’re teachers of a language – the thing is though that we are much more than that. It’s our duty to pass on values, to remind students of their role in society, to set examples and show responsibility, to be compassionate and understanding. And to make mistakes and admit to them. To tell them “I’m sorry” whenever we feel we have misjudjed them.

It’s not a matter of “greatness” as I say. It’s a matter of making a difference to a world that desparately needs it. There will be
“yes, but” voices among our friends, family and colleagues. But that’s exactly when we should remind ourselves of the most important lesson we should teach our students in life – how to be the human beings they want to be.

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