Thursday, November 2, 2017

A Teacher's Ten First Jobs

                Jessica Lahey’s essay “Teaching: Just Like Performing Magic,’ which recounts an essay with Teller (of Penn and Teller fame), contains a great deal of inspiration.  It was first published nearly two years ago, and I recently encountered it again because of some Tweets. While I highly recommend the piece, as I do any of her writing that I’ve encountered, one line in it jarred me. It’s part of a pull quote, and I’m not sure if it comes from Lahey or Teller. It reads: “The first job of the teacher is to make the student fall in love with the subject.”
                I have so many problems with this statement that I’m unsure where to begin. If I try to thoroughly explain each of them, I’ll have the outline for a book. If I try to summarize, I’ll wind up with a frustrating mass of frustration. So I’ll reduce my basic argument to one rather sweeping assertion.  When our primary focus becomes teaching a subject, we create many of the other problems that plague education, because we forget an essential truth: that what we’re really teaching are young people.
                With that in mind, I’d like to propose ten other possible first jobs of a teacher, perhaps with the subject as context or even tool, although what that is really doesn’t matter.

     --Get to know and love your students.
     --Remember they are developing young people, not professors to be.
     --Tap into their innate curiosity by asking students what they believe and what they want to know.
     --Create a safe classroom culture.
     --Make learning relevant.
     --Share your own ongoing learning (not just that from the past).
     --Decide what risk you’re going to take.
     --Clarify—to them and to yourself—what the most important goals are.
     --Develop a plan for moving out of their way.
     --Shrink your ego so they can grow.

While each of these could be the first job, together they are the job. Do such work, and then a nice by-product may be that students come to love a subject.


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