It is my first day as a teacher in a low-income, rural school. Although it is my weakest subject, I will be teaching Algebra 1 to freshmen and remedial students. The perfect combination for disaster for most teachers. But I am armed with all the confidence of my twenty-two years, freshly graduated from an elite college, ready to show my students the bliss of an education. Sure enough, my summer school Algebra 1 class runs smooth, my students actually prepared for Algebra 2. And so, the day it was time to start the regular academic year I was self-assured to the point of cockiness and bluster. But teenagers called my bluff. As I was to find out, they always know a fake when they see one. And so, after a difficult day when I screamed at a young lady, Blanca, and made her cry; after my sixth period class all but were in open revolt, after my third period students were on the verge of snoring, after a long, tiring day came to a close; after my anger at the immaturity and resistance of the students I thought would be so grateful for all the things I had to teach them, I broke down. Looking into the sunshine, I sat down and wrote what I came to believe was the teacher’s mission:
I believe tt is extremely important to, if not understand, at least have an intuitive notion of the student’s existence as a self-contained person. Meaning, by self-contained person, as one who has fears concerning the subject matter, especially when he is not especially keen to it. As a person who nonetheless will follow the beckoning call of a caring teacher, responding from the midst of his own soul to the soul of the teacher.
I believe the teacher is a prophet who shows, persuades, threatens, teaches, comforts, corrects, stimulates, congratulates, celebrates, the persons that are his/her students, and in the process shows them the promises of education, and of a life well-led, and well-spent. When he reprimands, he does so with the full regret of his very heart, but also with the hope that the student will benefit from it.
I believe the subject matter is important, but it is only a factor in a wide array of objectives and goals having nothing whatsoever to do with the concrete acquisition of the facts. It has to do with attempting to reach the heart, mind, and soul of the student, to convince him of the possibilities of taking life itself as an educational opportunity, of learning as a life-style, of studying as the reading from the book of living, day-in, day-out, panning out of the drone and the static the jewels of wisdom, prudence, and happiness.
I believe the teacher must respect the student and the student’s person, in his discipline he must not violate the integrity of the person, even, or especially, when it is done in subtle ways. Discipline should not be a way of controlling whereby the student is held hostage, like a bird who wants to run outside, to fly and smell the flowers and experience the grandeur of a simple summer day. The teacher must make every attempt at freeing the student’s mind in the classroom, of letting him experience the grandeur and simplicity of life in his very chair. To give him cause to want to return to that chair, that room, that thought.
I believe the teacher must not try to speak above the voice of the student’s conscience, he should rather focus on speaking to it, with it, becoming part of it, polishing it, refining it, improving it. For only then will the teacher be able to lead the student from his experience unto the fearsome world of the unknown, into the exhilarating effects of newness.
I believe he must keep in mind the heart of the adolescent. His life, his preoccupations, his hopes, even the very comic qualities of his odd behavior. Discipline shall not divert the natural behavior of the student into that of one held hostage, nor shall it place emotional distance between the teacher and the student. The relationship must be built, one of mutual respect, and a recognition that one is trying to convince the other of the importance of the educational enterprise. Everything in his classroom, and classroom management, must therefore be there for a reason, since his entire pedagogy will be built upon this base. So that if his discipline becomes despotic, then his pedagogy will be oppressive, if his discipline becomes authoritarian, then his pedagogy will be stifling, if his discipline is reasonable, gentle, and prudent, than his pedagogy will be liberating.
I believe he must not forget of the modest proposals which he must make with each class, each day, so that in the end he will have accumulated the accomplishments of a myriad of modest proposals, all compromising, at the end of every year (s), a true ambitious achievement.
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