Teacher as student

Teaching is more than a job, it is a way of life. When I chose to become a teacher, I hoped that I might use my daily work as an instrument of positive change in the world.

From day one, I found this to be the case, but not always in the way I had anticipated. Teaching is not just a one-way relationship in which I impart knowledge to hungry minds. I am not the expert in every matter. I do not have all of the answers. I am fallibly human. I am reminded of this every day when I am in a classroom full of students who challenge me, who trust me, who share their stories of success and failure, and who very often teach me something in the process. 

At the end of a semester, or sometimes on the eve of graduation, a student might tell me: “You changed the way I think.” This is very rewarding to hear, as long as the change is positive and empowering.

It is not my intention to shape others’ thinking to mirror my own. Rather, I hope to help students in their own pursuit of wisdom—food for the mind, heart and soul.

My goal is to foster a sense of open-mindedness to others, a critical eye with regard to information, an understanding of psychological and sociological concepts, and a greater awareness of responsibility to oneself and others. When students make healthy changes in the way they communicate, deal with problems, and relate to the greater whole of humanity, then I know I have done my job. 

Yet the way I may affect others is only half of the story. In the very same classroom where I wear the teacher hat, I am also learning. My students challenge me to adapt in an instant, to shift my perspective even when it tugs at my ego, and to approach situations with a humility that one can find only when put on the spot.

Moreover, these lessons carry over into my life outside of work. I constantly ask the questions: What am I not seeing? Why am I approaching this situation from a place of blindness? How can I put my ego in check to see things objectively? In essence, the very things I strive to embody in the classroom are continuous challenges for me as well.  

The moral of this story is that the profession of teaching is one of the greatest learning roles one can accept. Knowing that renews my commitment to teaching because I know that tomorrow I will be challenged to rise above what I did today. Even if it is not a conscious choice, there will be a student who helps me to see things differently. Every mistake I make will be highlighted under the glaring fluorescent lights of the classroom. There will be opportunities to double-check myself, and I will be better for it.

To my students: Thank you for changing the way I think--today, tomorrow, and every day thereafter.

Mary Carroll Courtwright is a teacher and writer. Her novel "Song of the Messenger", which is set in Cleveland Heights, was published in 2007. For more information, visit www.marycourtwright.com.  

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Volume 2, Issue 11, Posted 12:56 PM, 10.12.2009