What teachers really teach
When my daughters talk to me about their teachers, they rarely talk about the subject matter but about something funny the teacher said, how the teacher made them feel, and the stories the teacher tells about his or her personal life.
I thought of this while reading how Carl Jung, while giving talks to educators, would tell them that teachers don’t teach their subject. They teach themselves.
I can’t recall a thing I learned in fifth grade, but I will never forget how my teacher made me feel at ease about being an introvert, as she was an introvert herself and never ragged on me about being quiet during class discussions, unlike the other teachers I had up until that point.
I also can’t remember anything I learned in my 8th grade math class but I will never forget how the teacher told us the story of the childhood wounding she received that made her decide to forever avoid men and become a lesbian.
I will always remember how to read music and play the violin, even though I’ve barely touched it in 25 years, thanks to the orchestra teacher I had for 7 years. I stuck with the violin that long, not because I was any good at it, but because I liked the teacher and his stories. He freely gossiped with us (I loved that), worried about us like we were his own children, and invited us into his home once a year for a spaghetti dinner that he prepared and served himself.
One day I entered my high school psychology class and noticed a Moonie there preparing to give us a talk. My best friend and I turned on our heels and marched directly to the office to tattle, as we intuited this was probably against school rules. Yep, it was, and she was reprimanded. We were quiet kids who usually didn’t assert ourselves like that and my boldness took me by surprise. The next time we had class the teacher came up to me and gave me the most sincere apology I’ve ever received. I had a great rapport with her the rest of the semester with no ill feelings. I can’t recall her name, or anything I learned in that class, but I’ll never forget what she taught me through her apology.
I still retain a smattering of French, and that is thanks to my high school French teacher, a reserved man with high expectations, but who also had a dry sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye that communicated more than his words did. I knew he liked me even though he never said as much, and even though I was far from proficient in French. I won’t forget how he showed up at my high school graduation and told me it was the first graduation he had attended. His watery eyes and quick hug said more than his words could ever say. I was deeply touched. The way he made me feel, and what he taught me about himself, is probably the reason I took far too many French classes in college.
My favorite high school English teacher taught me much about herself, including how a devastatingly dry wit can put teenage boys with huge egos in their place. She could even find something witty to say about Jonathan Edwards’s sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, which was required reading in our textbook. I loved what she taught me about herself and I suspect that had a significant role in my choosing English as a major. Fortunately I had the opportunity to tell her that when I ran into her in a store several years ago. She died on Christmas Eve 2009 .
So it would seem the ability to be vulnerable and authentic is something the best teachers excel at and probably matters a lot more to our kids than the teacher’s credentials and it sure beats being lectured at. They also probably wouldn’t mind if all of us adults were more like that.
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