Twenty-seven years ago, after a wonderful lab school experience with plenty of practical experience at Eastern Washington University, I ventured into my own classroom to teach the subjects required in projects filled with language learning.
I felt confident and competent, but I wasn’t prepared for the adversity of attitudes infused in the difficult lives of the twinkling eyes in front of me. I quickly learned that content and process may be the required, but relationships and encouragement were the necessity. Building a community of learners whose runny noses, tears, and silliness were just as important as finishing a task. In fact, the tasks became processes of caring, checking in, acknowledging, and encouraging in both content and social and emotional needs. I teach students, not subjects.
And the first grade sparkling eyes of “I’m here again today” followed by teddy bear hugs at the end of the day turned into adolescent nods of “Yeah, I’m here” and “See you tomorrow” in middle school. And always, the parent and family connection because no matter what, families want their kids successful. No matter the age, the relationships are key.
The relationships between student and teacher and among the students either inhibit or enhance the learning process. Teachers are not holders of information, we are molders of transformation. What we struggle to accomplish is to create a diverse yet integrated community of thinkers: authors, mathematicians, historians, scientists, each with his or her own talents adding to the common good and the success of each other and the class. Teaching and learning are heuristic processes, not bits of facts and procedures and not checklists of criteria. In the classroom, we are all learners, and I am the lead learner.
In those first grade eyes and middle school smiles, I felt something: I had each day and each year added something positive to the world, and created an environment for my students to each add something positive too. It’s never perfect. It’s never easy. I’m not always successful. But considering the fact that facts aren’t the most important, my classroom is a learning landscape, a neighborhood to learn together built on caring and trust to know we can think and solve anything that life throws at us. We matter. And I hope the students in my care leave my class able to go boldly and scatter seeds of kindness, to continue creating and learning in their own positive learning landscapes.
And those lessons of what really matters became #whyiteach.