(drafted recently for a faculty inservice day called This I Believe)
I believe that the most important thing any teacher can do, ever, with no exception, is to learn. I believe it so strongly I want to say it twice, because I recently learned what an effective form of emphasis repetition can be. Are you with me? The most important job of any teacher is to learn. And I believe everyone at some point in their life, or in their day, is a teacher. Don’t you want your doctor, your financial advisor, your interior decorator, to have a little bit of teacher in them? And don’t you believe your doctor, your financial advisor, and your interior decorator ought to keep on learning what they need to know in order to give you good counsel in these rapidly changing times?
So I try to keep learning and teaching an inseparable and transparent process in my everyday practice. What does that mean? Well, when I teach a lesson, I strive to learn, not just as I prepare my lesson plan, but as I teach. Maybe a student will ask me a good question. I embrace not knowing the answers! We can investigate together. The teachable moment applies to us all. Maybe the students have something to teach me; in this age of information and connectivity and emerging ways of learning and knowing, you can never assume who the experts are in any room, and I get great pleasure in deferring to young experts for answers when they have them to offer. Beyond teaching students and learning from students, I strive to teach my students to teach. After all, some day they might be doctors, financial advisors, or interior decorators.
Sometimes it stings to have lost my recognition as a teacher. When I taught fifth grade, no one questioned when I filled out my insurance forms and checked off “teacher” next to occupation. Now as an Instructional Technology Facilitator sometimes I’m questioned; I have heard, “You’re not really a teacher.” It takes me aback. As a result, I have fantasized about different titles I’d love to have. I’ve called up friends and colleagues and batted around possibilities, but I’ve never come up with something that conveyed everything I hoped, yet still fit on a business card. Don’t get me wrong, I like it that I have the word facilitator in my title, but I confess I ache with the loss of my teacher identity. Yes, I deeply value technology and what it adds to the learning equation, but the verb that describes what I do – what I set out to do every day and what I hope I accomplish – is to teach. Then, one skin of the onion below, in what I hope my teaching encompasses, is to learn.
Have you ever seen a job listing for a professional learner? Neither have I. In a way that is what I am, though. I like teaching learners and teaching teachers, because I like learning from students and teachers, and want us all to pass it on. I wish I could hang a sign outside my room, Gayle Cole, learner/teacher. That idea makes me smile, speaks to my passions, resonates with my yearning for the right words. But as powerful as words might be, truth carries even more power. You can call me anything you want, really. I’ll still be striving to learn, and striving to teach.