Yes I have coached –  soccer, basketball, softball, track

I have tutored and given individual instruction – in SAT Prep, in Music, physics, math, various subjects I have taught

I have officially taught English, Reading, Study Skills, and a wide variety of Social Studies topics:  US History, World History, Comparative Religion, Social Issues, Economics, Government & Politics, Geography, and in the business world and for professional associations systems analysis, programming, computer software, and more.

It is fair to say I am a teacher.

I note that it is a sacred task.

The student(s) before me might have their livelihoods or educational future at stake.

The student(s) before me may struggle with the topic at hand, or may find it as natural as breathing air.

The student(s) before me may love the topic or think it useless

The student(s) before me may have been well-fed, had all medical and dental issues addressed, be able to see and hear without handicap, and a comfortable and safe place in which to live with a loving and supportive family

The Student(s) before me may eat adequately only at school, have untreated asthma or other medical conditions and/or untreated dental problems, need glasses and/or hearing assistance, live in a car or in a dangerous neighborhood, perhaps in a broken home or with aunt(s) or grandparents or even in a foster home –  s/he may be lucky compared to the student(s) who live(s) in abusive situations, whether or not with one or more biological parent

The sacredness of the task is not merely the uniqueness of the individual student.

It is also that regardless of any descriptor, categorization, classification by others (gifted, learning-disabled, etc.), I must find a way to take the subject matter for which I am responsible and help the student(s) before me make sense of it.

It may be that I am tutoring only one at a time, or I may have a team of 27, or a classroom of 39 – all have been part of my experience.

I may be in a well-equipped classroom or in a trailer outside without heat.

I may have more students than I have desks.

The desks I have may be too many for the room.

Yet somehow none of this can be an excuse.

I still have a human being, a unique human being, before me in each of my students.

I cannot hope to individual instruction for each of 39 students in a 45 minute period.

Even with only one student, I still may not understand her well enough to be the most effective teacher that student can have.

Still, I am responsible.

What makes it sacred is words I remember from Henry Adams:  A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

I can only hope, and do my best, to ensure that influence is a positive direction.

I am always haunted by the possibility that influence may in some way be detrimental.

I must ask, invite, entreat, challenge, provoke, sometimes even shame, so that my student(s) be able to go further –
– further than where they are when they enter my classroom
– in some cases further than they think possible
– in all cases, further than they might think possible or even imagine as an impossibility

I must have my students trust me.

It is not just their minds with they are trusting me,

It is their self-images, which can be fragile, particularly among the adolescents in secondary schools

It is their psyches

It is their souls

Because teaching is about much more than imparting knowledge and skills

Teaching is about enabling how to learn

Teaching is about enabling understanding enough to be able to frame questions about things one does not yet know

Teaching is about helping the student grow, and in the case of my adolescent students, grow up

Teaching has a social and emotional context, even if there is only one student before me, because together he and I share a social context when we are together

Teaching requires me to to accept and validate that student, even as I must of necessity ask, invite, entreat, challenge, provoke, sometimes even shame so that s/he can, regardless of where s/he started when we first come together, do and know and understand much more at the end of our time together.

There is never enough time to teach properly.

There are too many constraints, requirements imposed from outside, to fully teach properly.

There are too many things outside what I can control or what my student can control, for me to teach properly.

Nevertheless, I must teach
– properly
– with respect to the content
– with respect for the person(s) before me
– with integrity

Ultimately teaching is a gift to the student, which the process of doing enriches me even as it drains me

Teaching is traveling on a not yet fully understand path with the direction not fully known, because my teaching makes sense only in the context of the individual student(s)

There are other words to describe teaching –
– scary
– sobering
– exciting
– draining
– demanding
– rewarding
– trusting
– surrendering of one’s ego to address the unique individual student(s)

But there is one word most of all that helps understand the sacred task of teaching

love

for because without the deep caring of love, without that willingness to empty myself on behalf of the student(s) before me, I am not giving what is necessary for the real learning to take place.

These are the random and rambling thoughts of a man in his 69th year, who has already tried retiring from the classroom several times.

They are they musings of one who struggles with questions of morality of how and what I teach in a context of external mandates that can interfere with my understanding of what is best for my students

They are the typed words of a soul that right now feels very fragile, almost broken, because just as I cannot teach my students in total isolation from the context of the lives they lead, nor am I able to offer of myself oblivious to the life I lead, and the costs that might impose on me.

What if I can no longer, for whatever reason, teach as effectively as I used to?  What responsibilities does that place upon me?  Do I continue in the perhaps arrogant belief that I still may be better than whoever might replace me should I leave?  Do I strip down even more of what is external to my classroom and student responsibilities to give them more?

I cannot answer these questions.

I have to be honest with my students, because I ask, nay demand, that they trust me as I ask, invite, entreat, challenge, provoke, sometimes even shame them to go to places that may be scary, whose purpose they do not yet grasp.

I cannot seek their trust without offering my own trust.

I must give freely, even if that gift be ignored, misused, or thrown back into my face.

In other words, I must love.

Teaching is a sacred task.

It is a task of love.

And there is nothing more sacred than love.

I do not truly know how to love.

I am even worse at accepting love – ask my wife.

And yet I must as a teacher act as if I love.

Then maybe I will begin,with the help of the student(s) before, begin to learn how.

Teaching is a sacred task.

Peace.