Why Teach?

When asked why teaching, one recent applicant to the teaching certificate program I coordinate said, “Because I have to REALLY get out of retail.” I wanted to stand up and yell, “STOP dammit! Stop! Thanks for coming and good luck making retail less stultifying.”

Most applicants are pulled, rather than pushed into the profession, but their reasons still routinely speak to ulterior motives.

• “I’m a good story teller and students’ find me engaging.”

• “I love when the light bulb goes off when a student learns something new.”

• “It will be nice to have the same schedule as my children.”

That’s understandable. I recently wrote that everyone cares about compensation, benefits, work-life balance, but I’m waiting longingly for a prospective teacher to say something like this:

“I want to become an educator because I have a hunch that teaching is a continuous exercise in selflessness and I want to learn to lose myself in service of others. I’m an impatient listener and prone to self-centeredness. I want to learn to listen to young people in ways that help them fulfill their potential. I suspect teaching will provide me the opportunity to become not just a positive influence in young people’s lives, but also a better person, friend, partner, and citizen.”

I suppose, if that more Eastern starting point leads one to ask, “Relative to others, how well are you serving others and modeling selflessness?” practicing selfless service to others could turn into a tail chasing, self-regarding exercise. “Too bad others aren’t as selfless as me.” Ego is a perpetual trap.

Despite that conundrum, I’m wondering if I should add this tagline to our Teaching Credential Program’s promotional materials, “People with Buddhist sensibilities are strongly encouraged to apply.”

 

 

The Three Things Excellent Mentor Teachers Do

Ironically, excellent teachers often leave a lot to be desired as mentors to beginning teachers. Too often, their self-confidence tips over into an inadvertent egocentrism which leads them to think their less experienced charges should teach just like them.

And when their wide-eyed student teachers get excited about a creative and bold lesson idea they too often say, “That’ll never work.” And when a lesson doesn’t go well they tell their student teachers why.

In contrast, the best mentors know that teaching excellence takes many forms, therefore, it’s unlikely their student teacher is going to be a carbon copy of them. Consequently, they give their student teachers ample autonomy to find their way.

And when presented with a creative and bold lesson idea, the best mentors, even when they anticipate the classroom train jumping the tracks, say something to the effect of, “Let’s see how that goes.” They know student teachers learn best through trial, error, and reflection.

And when the classroom train sometimes does go off the rails, the best mentors channel Socrates and ask questions of their disheartened neophytes. In hindsight, what would you have done differently at the start of class? How might transitions have gone more smoothly? How can you make this good idea work better next time?

Because we assume mentoring excellence is intuitive, the best teachers don’t allows provide ample autonomy, allow for experimentation, and encourage self-assessment like the best mentors.