Thursday, April 18, 2013

Teachers as heroes

I found when I was young that I liked to learn interesting things and I like to explain them to others, passing them along.  When I was in the 6th grade, my teacher mentioned to me that all circles have a circumference that is 3.14159 times their diameter.  What?  ALL circles?  Yep, all of them. I also found that I enjoyed understanding the motivation of fictional characters.  After thinking about an occupation at various times, I thought I was headed for psychology or psychiatry.  However, when I found the cost and time needed to become a teacher, I switched directions. 

I taught the 5th grade for 4 years and taught teachers, both those in training and those already teaching, for 37 years.  Based on lots of experience with teachers, I feel that for many people, the best possible date or mate is a teacher.  It is true that if you are planning to keep Daddy's massive industrial complex going and you expect to keep his group of lawyers on the payroll, teaching will probably not be for you.  Daddy and Grandaddy may have already laid out steps to lead you along a path of grooming for the life of a captain of industry.  They may have made sure you go to a "good" school, one which actively but subtly discourages energetic and idealistic college students from becoming teachers.  Teaching and the religious life are both well-known for their lack of probable high earnings or profits.

However, for the person deeply interested in knowledge and in understanding the ways minds can work and can fail to work, teaching is a wonderful life.  I often counseled those interested in teaching that one learns first about oneself, secondly about one's students, thirdly about one's colleagues and finally about the parents of the students.  A hallmark of modern science is the realization that multiple observations are needed for genuine validation of a figure or a phenomenon.  So, getting to see and hear how these groups relate to their members and to the other groups improves one's grasp of the range of human thinking and behavior.  When you get multiple samples with different classes and different years, you get some solid experience with people.

Don't kid yourself: it is possible to suffer money pollution.  Too much wealth can warp one's sense of connection to others.  That problem is not likely for a teacher.  As educators have gotten better at their jobs, we have reached a point in our society where not having a solid education is a genuine handicap for the rest of one's life.  That means that there is a constant need for skilled and emotionally intelligent teachers, who teach a valuable subject while being alert to possible growth and possible obstacles that develop in students' lives.

If a policewoman saves your life, how much should she be compensated for that act?  If a physician improves your vision, what would be good payment for that?  If a teacher improves a child's knowledge and behavior, what is that teacher worth? In some cases, no amount of payment seems adequate while in cases, where errors and damage are done, no amount of penalty seems right, either.

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