Around the Easter dinner table, the conversation shifts between Cousin Larry’s new car, Grandpa’s recent colonoscopy, and little Beth’s first day of gymnastics. For the most part, everything is going well until you perk up and share your concerns about how your students are going to do on upcoming State tests, and Aunt Lisa responds, “But you’re not a real teacher. Why are you worried?” She didn’t mean anything by it, but for you, the comment cuts deep to the core.
Every school has a set of marvelous, powerful, influential teachers, and I use that term purposefully, who some consider second place to others who have certain letters attached to their name or particular words on a piece of paper that sent them on a different path in college. Different but certainly not better.
Welding, business, band, special ed., drama, P.E., construction … the list goes on of pivotal people who would cause schools to crumble if their work was absent. Powerful people who might just have more avenue of influence than “regular” teachers who teach English, Science, Math, and Social Studies.
But who or what defines a real teacher, anyway?
I recently read an impressive definition of a teacher from Midland Middle’s band teacher, Jason Thorne. He writes: real teachers share their “joy and passion so that students can realize their greatness and worth. They teach their students that failure is the first stepping stone to success and a quality product.” They take their students to higher places and allow them to create something all their own. They teach kids how to be supported and support others. “A real teacher inspires students to grow.”
There’s no room for pretend teachers in our world today. No matter what others may say, people who come through the doors of modern-day school buildings into all the struggles which abound inside, are something special, something very real. All the Cousin Lisas have a false sense of reality. I have seen firsthand the miraculous work done by teachers like Mr. Thorne, who may not deliver lectures on sound waves or polynomial equations or the Second World War, but use their specialized talents to reach kids I certainly cannot reach with a lesson on Romantic literature.
And according to Mr. Thorne, we can learn from everyone we encounter, if we first believe in the value of their lesson, then are open to receive it. Think about your own momma. Regardless of the degrees behind her name, she probably was the most influential teacher in your life. Certainly she shared joys with you, pulled you out of failures, loved you to higher places, supported your imaginative creations, showed you how to love others, and inspired you to be the best version of yourself.
“A stronger community is built on the realization that education is something for which everyone is responsible. If we truly believe that our students will reflect upon the world the value of education and change the world for good, shouldn’t we be inviting the world into our classrooms?” Good question, Mr. Thorne. But there are intelligent, talented teachers who go unnoticed and overlooked for the enormous work they do, both inside and outside school buildings.
For every time we point a finger at a real teacher, there are three more pointing right back at us. So, my questions are simple. Who are your students, and what are you teaching?