Being a teacher is an unpredictable adventure that can help us learn about both ourselves and others. A lot of times teachers wish we could simply transmit content knowledge directly to our students. The truth is that teachers communicate so much more than we realize. This happens through our choice of clothing, tone of voice, gestures, body language, class rhythm, routines, and more.
Before I accepted that teaching far transcends passing on content to the next generations, I used to become frustrated at having to explain concepts that I thought should already have been present in students’ lives: neatness, respect, friendship, cleanliness, etc. I thought teaching these was beyond the scope of my responsibility. It felt like a waste of time to have to take time away from grammar or reading to let someone know how to speak politely to a classmate.
However, with enough time and experience, I learned to embrace the idea of a teacher being much more than just a facilitator or an expert in a certain field. Teachers also share their culture, their principles, their lives. Before we try to teach, however, we should seek to understand. A teacher who forgets to learn will soon lose the ability to teach at all.
One particular day, I was feeling tired and frustrated. I forget the name of the student and I forget the offense as well. It could have been Annabel, Carlos, Roy, or Susie. The offense could have been refusing to work, being noisy, chasing other kids with a broom, standing on a chair and jumping to the ground or to another chair (it all happened); the list goes on. But what I do remember is that I was teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) to a group of elementary school kids. I had had enough. I decided to take the offender to the office to have a talk with the principal. What else is a teacher to do? Since it is very unusual for me to take students to talk to the principal, this was a big deal. On the way there, I tried to reason with the student. “I don’t understand why you keep doing (whatever the misbehavior was). I think I have been very patient with you. Do you think I have been patient with you?” “No,” came the least expected answer. I was about to lose my cool completely when God sent a ray of light into my exhausted and confused brain. Could it be that the student didn’t know what I was talking about? After all, this was an ESL class. So, I had to ask another question. “Do you know what patient means?”, I asked almost shyly. “No,” came the same unexpected answer. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. But there, on the way to the principal’s office, I learned a very important lesson that I will never forget: If we want to teach, we should be willing to learn. Communication is more than an intellectual exercise; it is a work of the heart as well. As we engage in communication with colleagues, parents, and students, we should first seek to understand so we can speak words of encouragement, comfort, and peace.
Questions to reflect on/discuss:
- In what practical ways can teachers seek to understand students, coworkers, and parents?
- Why is it important for teachers to be willing to learn?
For a video on the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey, (habit 5 is: Seek first to understand, then to be understood), visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktlTxC4QG8g