Ask most any teacher why they became a teacher and more likely than not, you’re going to get a story of one teacher somewhere along their academic career who brought their love of their chosen discipline to life.
You might hear the story of the English teacher who instilled a love of great literature and deep readings of texts through the classics. Another might tell you of a physics teacher who illuminated the wonder of understanding the world by seeking its most basic building blocks or the math teacher who showed the artistry of balancing equations and solving for X.
Dig a bit more deeply, and these stories of “that one teacher” are likely to reveal hopes that these younger teachers can teach in the same fashion, shape the same experiences that led them down their vocational path.
It makes sense that a teacher would like to create the same sense of wonder they found in these classes for their own students.
This is not enough.
The schools we need teach not as teachers were taught, but as students need to learn.
For each teacher who found their path through the practice of a single illuminating teacher, there were likely dozens of other students sitting alongside who were left in the dark. For whatever reason – and they were likely myriad – what happened in those classes didn’t speak to many of the other students. While the English teacher was crafted into a lifelong reader and lover of words through a sharply focused examination of The Great Gatsby or Pride and Prejudice, she must remember in her own practice that she is responsible not for uncovering the handful of students who will also fall in love with these texts.
She is responsible for opening up the world of letters to all her students. She is responsible not for convincing all her students to be English teachers or English majors, but for helping all her students find themselves in the pages of some text and being able to carefully consider what they find there.
This is difficult.
While we will often profess to wanting to help all of our students find pathways to learning, we generally create pathways that look much like those that led us to our own destinations. We find sanctity in trying to recreate the experience that were created for us by our own teachers. Perhaps not explicitly, but certainly implicitly, doing what was done for us is a way to honor our past.
The better way of honoring that past in the classroom is by building a bigger tent. We must pause, deconstruct our learning experience, no matter the subject and rebuild our classrooms and our teaching practices as hubs providing multitudes of entry points for any students willing to ask a question, voice an opinion, or challenge a long-held idea.
Such classrooms leave in intact those paths that led us from the teachers we learned from to the teachers we became while recognizing that these are not the only paths to deep, passionate, and lifelong learning.