This I Believe

William - Saint Paul, Minnesota
Entered on December 21, 2007

I am named for my great, great grandfather, Faithful William Chapman. He came over with the minors from Cornwall who settled southeastern Wisconsin and gave it the name Badger State from their burrowing under the ground in search of lead, but he himself—despite an unsuccessful trip west in 1849—was not really a minor. What he was, according to family legend, was a con man, and perhaps I have inherited something of his nature as well as his name. If so, it has served me well, for nothing is as central to the art of teaching, which is what I do, than the ability to make students believe.

The first day of every new class takes place in Missouri. “Show me,” say some of the students’ expressions. These are the kindly ones.

“Let me see you make me learn,” say others.

And the rest say something unspeakable here, although your liver tells you it applies to the horse you rode in on as well.

The teacher’s first job is to convince students that they will benefit from investing their time in the enterprise of learning. Next I must lead them to believe in themselves. If I can accomplish these two things, my students will begin to believe in me, making it easier to sell them on the idea that they are doing something meaningful in my classroom.

When I reach out my hand, I have found that my students will reach back and grab it.

Maybe not the first time. This is where patience comes in. But, if I believe in them, eventually—through believing in themselves—they will begin to believe in me.

Trust is the bond that links the mind of the student to that of the teacher. Trust is the student’s motivation for taking that first step from cave to light.

Within each of us, as recognized by Plato, are two voices: that of the questioner and that of the answerer. Though these voices correspond to those of the student and the teacher, it is important to note that each sounds its words within our own minds. In order to come to new understanding we must question ourselves about what we currently believe. The teacher’s role, like that of a midwife, is to stimulate us to ask the painful questions which give rise to the birth of new understanding. That we do so requires first that the teacher make us comfortable enough with ourselves to risk the asking—in short: to believe in ourselves.

We begin to trust ourselves through being trusted by others. Through believing in ourselves, we begin to believe in others. To teach is to trust. This I believe.