If You’re a Teacher…Read This.

My heart and head are running faster than my fingers as I typed this blog today. It’s because I am ignited and beginning to catch flame for ideas and opportunities as I read about engaging my current and future students. See, I’m a teacher who loves the material I teach and the wisdom personally gained in my own life over 35 years for the things that bring passion to my life. I love the subjects, the books, the research, the lectures, the PowerPoints, the assignments….I love it all.

But today, I have come to the realization that I love the subject maybe more than I love those sitting in the classroom…the learners who come to be with me annually in the college setting.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do get excited about the start of each class and the subject and I do get passionate about the students who pay their tuition to sit in this class with me. I have always cared about them a lot. But in recent reading about the “Mosaic generation,” I have come to understand that I may not really understand what I do as a faculty member….a teacher of a subject.
The reading (“You Lost Me,” by David Kinnaman and Aly Hawkins) has made clear to me I have to revisit the principle of “tight/ loose” put forward years ago by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman in their bestselling business book, “In Search of Excellence.” According to these authors, many companies do not understand that they can manage some things, like the product, etc, but they cannot control what is going on around them in the context of the business world. So there is this contrast of holding on and letting go. That’s how it has to be for me in the classroom…to invite students into the subject, to manage the delivery at the highest quality I can personally muster, to make sure the structures are there to successfully provide what is needed to engage the subject matter, and so on. But the loose part has to be in how students will internalize and understand the material in their contexts; I have the obligation to help them become critical thinkers, yet not the one responsible for how they might engage their worlds. In a sense, I have to walk into each classroom thinking, “how can I turn these students loose in their worlds with minds trained to engage their contexts with wisdom about a subject, not just data and more information they can look up on their iPad or smartphone at any given moment?” See, in today’s teaching environment, the data and information is available EVERY minute via technology. The challenge for me as a teacher is “how do I manage the assignments and data so that when the students are with me they can make the connections needed in a broader world.” It has to be more than tests and quizzes and papers….it has to be about application and engagement. How then do I structure the assignments (tight) to help the students take the content into their worlds as educated people (loose)?

Second, I have to care more for the student’s future and their dreams than I do about the subject matter. Now there is a fine line here in what I mean and don’t want to construe that I don’t care about the subject matter or for that matter the students. But being in the academy for 35 years, I have watched as the subject can easily become more important than the student’s dreams and future hopes. I am realizing I must recommit to knowing why students have chosen my elective class over a host of other options and how this subject will move them closer to being the people or professionals they hope to be in their own lives. I realize this as a faculty member who has taught electives for 90% of my career. I have occasionally taught the “foundational” or “core” classes that students have to take in their majors, but for the most part, I have been teaching those courses students choose from the list. Now, I know that many of them choose it because it is just an elective that fills a requirement, but have I really sought to know how this course might assist them reach their dreams and goals for the future? My challenge here is this: What if those who teach foundational or core courses treated them as electives…..that no one HAD to show up or register for it? What would you do differently? How might you treat the subject and those who come to sit with you? How might you deliver the course content, making it fresh year after year after year after year……to really engage the hearts and minds of the students? How would we revamp the courses at the end of every academic year in order to engage a new set of students the next time the subject is offered? And not just an updated textbook, but a thorough reassessment of each class session and assignment to determine how it will help the student both gain some wisdom on the subject and see the ways it can be applied to the futures they envision for themselves.

Teaching colleagues, if you’ve read this far and say “bunk” or this is “crap,” thanks for your time. But if these ideas have ignited your heart and head to think about the subjects you teach, join me in the annual commitment to become the best we can be as we help the students we encounter fulfill their life dreams and hopes.

Blessings to my colleagues in the noble profession of education and teaching. It has been deeply rewarding to me….and I hope you as well. Grace and peace to you as you give your best to each generation.