My father taught me how to jump over turnstiles to avoid paying, he taught me to be a chauvinist who waits on the settee to receive a meal, and he taught me that I was bloody irresponsible. My mother taught me that my father was a slob, she taught me to make a bed, and she taught me her faith.
I began to see that I was also teaching others. There is power in information. I taught Mr. Kemner, a teacher, that he was wrong and he taught me I was right. My teachers taught me that I was remedial. They taught me that education was torture. We sat, we listened. We starved. I felt the sleepy implosion of my head. The temples would ache and the eyes would squint. I wasn’t interested. I dared them to interest me in learning.
However, when there was discussion, I learned. I sat up and engaged. I threw out ideas, as yet unformed and saw the sparks of learning glow around me. I asked questions? Why? Why? But I was told to assimilate, not explore. I was told to accept, not question. The boats were leaky and I wasn’t to rock them. Mathematics enraged me. It made no sense. Reading tired me – the sentences were meaningless. They were always about pirates, but there were no riches to explore. There was no inspiration. Those who follow, followed. I sat in the seat, but I went on long journeys. I explored possibilities. I had dreams.
In my aspirations I was the general of a grand army leading them into battle. In my dreams, I was an engineer constructing machines that withstood tornadoes. On my desk I held a gray pencil and wrote gray lines, trying not to misspell. Trying to avoid the red pen? I longed for recess. I longed for home.
Back at home, I would explore possibilities, converse with my mother, argue with my friends. That’s how I learned – I see now that it is possible to teach this way – explore, converse, reason. I always studied a little, just enough to make it into the top classes. Just enough to stay with my friends. I sat in the classroom at recess pontificating on relationships, I spoke with authority and my peers quoted me. They believed me. I had power. The will to power. The power of ideas. The power of teaching.
I was a counselor at a camp in Cornwall. I lead the children and they followed me. A mother was proud to tell me that her son wanted to be just like me.
I went to Pakistan at eighteen and taught English to the affluent. I was woefully ineffective in changing their ideas about the west, the world, the nature of being. I was taught how little I knew. I was taught of my smallness.
But in the darkness of defeat a light shone through. I saw that I had methods. The words were uncut, crude, unformed, but the method was there. Two Americans that I fought with over ideas, had the idea that I could teach. Not that I would teach as others teach, but that it was a calling.
I wanted to be a preacher, not a teacher. I wanted to teach by telling! I wanted to teach by yelling! I knew what was to be known, and I needed to tell those who did not. Wrestling with ideas, my mind ached. My career in the church crumbled as my minimal grades would not carry me along that road. I was accepted to a teacher training institute, so I decided to see if I could be intentional about my teaching.
We all learn, we all teach. I had learned to hate books and love conversations. I was low on information and high on opinions. I continued to do the minimum in class and didn’t read a book. I took quotations from authors and strung them together like a daisy chain.
Education became a game to be played, while I was busy doing other things. I graduated with a mediocre grade from a good university. It was what I needed. Hoops. Pragmatism. Education. I had the piece of paper that said I could teach – but I wasn’t a teacher.
A Turn for the Slightly Less Obnoxious
I escaped to Japan and arrived at Tosayamada. I was a celebrity overnight by the uniqueness of my skin. I was invited to coach soccer and field hockey. I made the best of what little knowledge, I had. But I was on the receiving end of most of my instruction.
The conversations that I had became richer and I changed to a learner. I had more to learn than I had ever imagined. There was a culture that was so different from my own. I sat in a local coffee shop and asked questions. The time that I spent in my apartment became more productive because I couldn’t understand the television. I read books and was astounded by the constant modifications on what I thought I knew. As my attitude changed, I assimilated the good and rejected the bad from the experiences around me. I became a teacher because I became a learner.
Why teach? To learn.
I learned that I had gone to Pakistan with my mind closed and I wanted to go back and learn again. I wanted to be immersed in the process. Upon returning to my classroom, I immediately tore the carpet up in my own classroom and replaced it with a game board. We fought out the wars of the middle ages. I was engaged in the learning myself. I began looking forward to coming to school. I was excited to think what adventure would unfold before us today. We explored the curriculum together, and I tried to split up the instruction into four basic learning patterns. We invented games of economics, we wrote letters to Japan, we had the Olympic games. I found a style that excited me and the students.
Why teach? To explore with children and invent and create.
When I studied for my Masters from Moody Bible Institute, I was taught another lesson in teaching. My professors showed me the respect that professors at Exeter had denied me. They welcomed me into their homes, they spoke at my wedding. When I asked a question they never questioned my ability to learn. I studied hard with these mentors. They inspired me to apply myself to reading. I loved learning with them. I felt the freedom that knowledge brings.
Why teach? To mentor as I have been mentored.
I started teaching fifth grade at Northwest Christian Academy. I created a learning environment with notable creativity. The students loved learning in this creative environment and I loved teaching.
Why teach? To see the thrill of learning unfolding in the minds of individuals.
Now a hunger had developed in me. I had urgency. I wanted to see what methods I had missed when I snoozed through my undergrad. What could be done in a classroom? What new methods could be applied? How could I bring together innovative techniques with traditional beliefs?
I started taking classes at National-Louis and learned once more how children learn. This time I was a wide eyed child sipping from a cool stream of knowledge. I went back to NCA and applied everything that I was learning. National Louis’ Professors encouraged me in my use of simulations, I was given more structure for my assessments. I limited myself to one class at a time because I was afraid of missing out on the application of the knowledge. What if I drank in too much too quickly? I was excited to learn, and my teaching improved. I had found my calling.
Why teach? To answer a call – it’s a vocation.
I am teaching now, but I have undergone another change. I see the dance of learning moving around me. No two children dance the same. Old people dance more slowly, but they teach and learn. Children seem to be sponges of learning who soak up so much, but they are unaware of how much they teach.
I am hired to teach teachers at two locations. What a privilege to learn from learners younger and older! I dance the dance of education with them. I do not bound through hoops. Teaching is an act of love! We spin through classes and I slide down hallways happy to pass on what I have experienced. I am in the middle of a classroom, swept by the symphony. New methods are added to the score year by year as we uncover the theories of learning. We understand more and more of what God has placed in the heart of humanity. We sing! We dance! We waltz to the tune of lifelong learning.
Why teach? Who can do anything but teach, and learn; give and take; embrace and reject; breathe and exhale!? We all teach! I have just had the opportunity to throw myself into the middle of the dance!
Join the Dance!