It always struck me as ironic that Teacher Appreciation Week usually fell on the last week of preschool when I taught at the lab school. It's been my experience that most parents don't even know it's teacher appreciation week or else are so busy that they fail to take the time to let teachers know they really are appreciated.
Last night I got a wonderful surprise. This has been a year of ups and downs for me both personally and professionally, and I have been challenged to do and try new things and let some old things go. But one of my former students publicly thanked me on facebook for the work I did with her.
I take my job very seriously, whether I'm teaching a two-year old or a thirty-two year old. The goals may be different as is the curriculum, but my responsibilities remain the same: to teach the student the required curriculum to the best of my ability. A teacher's job doesn't end at the end of class. That's when a teacher's job is just beginning. After the student has left, a teacher is reflecting on the interactions in class, pondering how to better challenge her students, thinking of ways to make the curriculum more interesting and most of all, more meaningful. Planning for the next class takes as much or more time than the actual class itself.
It's always kind of given me a giggle that my degree is a Master's degree of Science in Early Childhood Education. Science, huh? There are a lot of logical and analytical properties that go into teaching--being able to observe and examine which strategies work best and utilize them to bring out the best in each student. Being able to manage time, communicate clearly, and understand one's subject matter all lend themselves to the science behind teaching.
But as every teacher knows, true teaching is an art, an ability to get inside of another person's thinking and coax out the best in him or her; to make the subject matter meaningful in different ways to different people, and to exercise the art of encouraging the learner to create their own constructs of the subject matter. Like any good artist, teachers must be willing to take the time to allow students to develop in their thinking and grow their own ideas. The art of teaching is much like watching a great painting being constructed before you. The student learns the basic lines and patterns, then begins to fill in the blanks with their interpretations of information they are responding to. And if done correctly, no two pieces of artwork are the same. Neither are any two teachers. Although they are all working with the same brushes and paints and lines and dots; they are creating their own ideas and belief systems. Great teachers understand the need for this constructive process and provide students with not only the tools but the belief that they can indeed construct something valuable.
I have had many teachers who have helped me construct my ideas about teaching and learning. Some of those teachers were highly gifted and some never understood that teaching is a dance between the teacher and the learner. Regardless, they all impacted me in different ways. As I have grown in my understanding of what teaching and learning is, my definition of teachers has grown as well. I no longer define the term "teacher" in its strictest form. No, instead my teachers are the individuals I come across every day who encourage me to think more deeply or ponder questions more thoroughly. They are my colleagues, my students, my friends, my family. They are the gas station attendant, the homeless man on the corner, the salesperson at the store. For each situation I find myself in, I find an opportunity to learn.
At the end of every semester I make a point of thanking my students, because I believe they teach me as much or more than I could ever teach them. As has been said many times, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." This belief has never failed me.
So take time today to thank a teacher. It could be your child's teacher, or it could be the grocery store clerk who joked with you when you felt to serious and reminded you that life should be a little more joyous. It could be your spouse who loves you and has taught you to love, or the homeless woman who reminds you to be a bit more generous of heart and earnings. They are all our teachers, and deserve our thanks.