The greatest gift to a teacher is seeing former students doing well in life.
I’ve been teaching for so long that I’m watching the children of former students enter my classroom. I laughingly refer to myself as an “educational grandparent,” but I can’t deny the joy of this experience.
As teachers, we know that we’re important in the lives of our students. The trust placed in us by each parent and each child is sacred.
The word educate is derived from the Latin word ‘educare,’ which means to ‘draw out.’ The task of a teacher, therefore, is not to stuff a person full of information but to draw out the giftedness in each child. Every child I’ve ever taught is gifted.
I believe that my greatest strength as a teacher is my ability to see the giftedness in others. I’m like the baseball scout who can spot potential a mile away. The only thing is that it’s often really hard to tell what a person’s particular gift is, so I just take the perspective that this person is going to do something really amazing and exciting in life, and just try to draw it out.
Certain aspects of our educational system make this easier to do. We take the perspective with athletics that each child gets equal playing time up to a certain age. You never know who’s going to blossom into an amazing player or when they’re going to blossom. That small child dribbling the basketball off of her foot could turn out to be the next superstar. That star scoring all of the points may decide that he wants to be a musician, and that too is wonderful.
The key is to expose young people to many things and let them decide where they want to excel. That’s drawing out, that’s the key to education.
Today when I run into former students, I don’t see the child or teen who sat in a desk in my classroom, I see an accomplished adult. I see a person with skills in particular areas that far exceed my own. This tells me that what I taught them was far less important than how I taught them. Yes, I gave them tools in certain areas to equip them to go on to the next level but more importantly, I taught them to believe in themselves and to follow their passion in life.
I’ve also come to realize that it’s not only our young people who need to take time to discover their gifts. Education is a lifelong process and we all need to take time to develop our talents, to recognize the untapped resources of our unlimited potential. It’s therefore as much a joy to give a compliment to a friend or colleague as it is to draw out the giftedness in a student.
Looking over my career, I give thanks for the people I taught. I also give thanks for the wisdom I’ve accumulated and that the idealism I felt when I became a teacher so many years ago was warranted.
Looking forward, I give thanks for the students I’m teaching and all the people I interact with, and for the fact that I not only believe, I actually know from experience that they’re going to do incredible and amazing things.
Yes, being a teacher is a lot of work and the job has its share of frustrations, but looking back and looking forward, I can say, it’s a wonderful life.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.