Memos from the Middle

Smack-Dab in the Middle of Living

“What Do You Teach?”

Inevitably, when someone finds out that I am an educator, they ask, “What do you teach?” I could respond any number of ways: high school English, curriculum design and pedagogical techniques to teachers, math, etc. But the truth of the matter is that I teach so much more than a subject or a strategy or a grade level. Every time I respond to students, I am teaching. Every time I interact with colleagues in view of pupils or parents, I am teaching. Every time I apologize for mis-teaching, mis-stating, or misinterpreting, I am teaching. Every time stakeholders witness me “in action” or in inaction, I am teaching. In short, I am always on stage, and although it is hard, the best thing, the most professional thing, for me to do is remember that!

Too often, we as educators get bogged down in everything but what we got into this work to do. Most of us, I would guess, did not go into teaching to ensure that all kids understood slope (even though we value this knowledge, especially if we are math teachers). Most of us probably didn’t say things like, “I want to guarantee that all students know the difference between dependent and independent clauses” as part of our philosophy of education papers we all had to write before we graduated from our teacher preparation programs. Surely, we didn’t say, “Because of me, students will use the scientific method for all scientific inquiry they encounter throughout life!”

This all sounds really silly, but in truth, many of us approach our day to day as educators this way, forgetting the real reasons why we got into this profession, forgetting to weave those real reasons into our daily interactions. While I am sure that most teachers are very interested in students learning (and loving to learn) the subjects we teach, didn’t most of us get into this work to teach…dare I say…KIDS? Didn’t we hope to make a difference? Didn’t we sign up for providing greater academic, social, and economic opportunities for our students? Didn’t we want our kids to enjoy learning? And for those of us in high-poverty areas, didn’t we know that there was a certain degree of difficulty we needed to and absolutely could overcome to make all of that happen?

This time of year is hard in schools, and it’s even harder if your school or district is faced with more budget cuts than should be legal, but I implore us all to remember what we REALLY teach:

  1. We teach sweating the small stuff because it shows students that quality is better than mere compliance.
  2. We teach not taking things personally because we understand that everyone comes to the table with varying degrees of baggage that impact behavior and responses.
  3. We teach timeliness and honesty because we know that the faster we can give relevant, precise feedback the more likely our students will reach the high expectations we have for them. Plus, it shows that the work they have done matters to us–they matter to us.
  4. We teach sticktoitiveness because we know that when we persevere our students have a model of tenacity and grit that will take them far beyond their initial limitations.
  5. We teach kindness even in the face of adversity because we are the adults, and we know that if we want our students to be pleasant, well-rounded people they need to see it modeled in the professionals who they encounter on a daily basis.
  6. We teach compassion because we understand that many of our students have life circumstances and hardships that require more care and concern.
  7. We teach kids because no matter how smart we are in a subject, no matter how skilled we are in techniques, none of that matters if we forget our clients and their individual academic, cultural, and social and emotional needs.


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