You've Gotta Teach Me Something
"Am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, has, have, had, do, does, did, shall, will, should, would, may, might, must, can, could."
Those are verbs of being. I learned the list in 5th grade from a teacher named Mrs. Hoggard. She was a teacher from the old school. I'll confess. There are times I inflict the same grammatical punishment on my kids she inflicted on her students.
"Can I go to the bathroom?" they ask.
"I don't know. Can you? I think you mean may I go to the bathroom. 'Can' is about ability. 'May' is about permission."
Every time I hear that question I receive a double benefit. I get to torture my children with a lesson on proper grammar and remember a teacher who influenced me. Other teachers in my life have had a similar effect.
Mr. Arato was the teacher who led the Junior Police in my elementary school. There was a rumor he had an electric paddle to punish trouble makers. In 6th grade I was one of his Junior Police and in his home room. He was never as scary as the stories we told the younger kids. He was really a lot of fun and one of the student's favorite teachers. I sat at my desk the last week of school. He snuck up behind me and poured a cup of cold water over my head. I was soaking wet. It was good-natured retaliation for a practical joke I and several of my friends had played on him earlier in the year. (He's in the picture. Doesn't he look kind of like the Family Guy?)
There was also Mrs. Tapscott. She was one of my teachers for two years because she moved from teaching one grade to another. One of her sons was an entrepreneur who owned a restaurant in town. Her other son was a member of the U.S. Secret Service. Before Mrs. Tapscott it never really crossed my mind that teachers have a life and family outside of school. I assumed they lived at the school somewhere inside that secret wonderland called 'The Teacher's Lounge.'
In high school there was Mr. Correll, my band director. He was one of the teachers that helped me become the musician I am today. Every time I play the piano I use the blues scale he taught me.
Mr. Peak and Mr. Fleming were the cool teachers. They played together in a rock band. Mr. Peak taught biology; Mr. Fleming, psychology. Mr. Fleming had long hair and owned a t-shirt print shop. He hired me to make t-shirts. For our semester final in Mr. Fleming's psychology class we watched a movie, "The Lost Boys." It's a vampire movie. We had to write a one page summary on the psychological effects of fear on one of the characters.
Some jobs have the benefit of keeping the curtain closed until the product is ready. Apple has mastered this art. We'll only hear rumors of the next iPhone until the day Apple decides to reveal the finished product. Another blockbuster movie is about to be released. After its success in theaters we might see a bloopers reel on DVD or YouTube. We might hear funny stories from the actors about crazy things that happened on set, but the public will only ever really know the finished product.
Teachers don't have this luxury. Their work isn't ever really a finished product. It's a process under construction and that process is on open public display. We see the work they do. It makes us think we understand what it takes to be a good teacher. It gives people the false impression that they could do better. Because the process is public, we feel the freedom to offer up our opinion of success or failure even before the process has reached its intended goal. Like walking in on a surgeon in the middle of open heart surgery, we enter a classroom and shout, "Put that back in! That's not where that goes!" It's tempting to criticize the manufacturer before they get the battery in the phone.
An ancient proverbs says, "...let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment."
That saying tells me not everyone has what it takes to be a teacher. It also tells me that those who have become teachers deserve special respect. They rightfully receive a level of scrutiny most professions will never know. They are judged, not for their finished product, but for the work under construction.
That judgment comes in a variety of forms. It comes in the form of public criticism. Teachers should expect it. That criticism may be useful. It may not. It may be informed or ignorant. Whatever the case, it's natural. As a teacher, find a way to leverage that public criticism to your advantage. You're an educator. Use those teachable moments to train up parents, students and the public about where you are in the process, where you're headed and how we should all measure success.
That judgment comes in another way. It comes in the future choices of the students you teach. You are not fully responsible for their actions, but you are an accomplice in the process.
I'm thankful for those who taught me. I hope today you will take time to reflect on those teachers who helped shape you into the person you are. I hope you'll take time to say thanks to the people who taught you and that you'll give extra honor to those who teach your children.
Teachers are the secret sauce. They are the difference between ignorant and informed, wise and foolish, skilled and unskilled. Their responsibility is great. The honor they deserve, greater.
For those of you who want to become teachers, well done. Remember this. There is a difference between prominent and significant. My nose is prominent. My heart is significant. Everyone I meet will see my nose. It will be in every picture taken of me. I hope no one ever sees my heart, not even my doctor. I may be funny looking, but I can live without my nose. I can't live without my heart. One is prominent. The other significant.
As a teacher, you may never be prominent. But be you can be confident of this. You are significant. You are in my heart.
- Who were your favorite teachers and why?
- How can you honor a teacher today?
- On some level we all teach something to someone somewhere. What can you do to become a better teacher?