Teaching The Whole Child

I distinctly remember sitting in my car, freezing, in the abandoned transit parking lot west of town waiting for the phone call from my current Head of our Upper School. He couldn’t talk until 7pm, which was 9pm my time (in Colorado) and I didn’t get cell service consistently on the 40-minute drive from town to my house; so, I sat and I waited. I was nervous, it’s not that he is hard to talk to but I wanted to have all the right answers to the hypothetical questions that I knew he was going to be asking me, about whom I was as a person and as a teacher. Throughout the conversation, I felt confident and sure of myself…until he asked THE question. The one that stopped me in my tracks and made me think, and fumble, and answer in a way that I thought he wanted me to, even though I wasn’t sure I believed the answer at that moment. His question, “Do you consider yourself a content-centered or student-centered teacher” was not an easy one for me to answer. I’ve thought about this question a lot since that night in the parking lot, when I was trying to come up with all the right answers. I can’t remember how I answered it in that moment and now that I have had lots and lots of time to think about it, I can honestly say that, if asked again today, I would be able to answer it, with confidence. My answer is this; there is no definitive answer to that question. To be a good teacher, I don’t believe you can be one OR the other. I think you have to be both. There are those students that really need for you to be content-centered. They have it all together and they are thirsty for knowledge, for you to lead them in the right direction of that knowledge and to fill them up. These kids are the ones that are driven and ready to meet their futures head on. And then, there are those children that will not remember the content that you taught them 5 years from now, but they will remember those moments with you. The ones when you took the time to look them in the face and ask them about their day and genuinely caring about their answer. The times when you gave ½ the period away to talk about something that happened that day that may have created a ripple effect in their lives and the lives of those in the community. These kids are the ones that will remember your kindness and your grace, years later, in the most random of moments, and they will take a moment to send an email, just to check in and say Hi and that they miss you. Both of these types of students are the reason that I come to my classroom every single day, ready to meet my students where they are. Part of my graduate work was to write my “Teaching Philosophy” before I graduated. Which is ironic when I look back at it, because how can you possibly philosophize about something that you have no real experience with. I recently read through my philosophy from 10 years ago and all I can say is that I have changed; I have grown and matured in my understanding of what it really means to be a teacher. I have taken a very idealistic philosophy of a profession I knew nothing about and I turned it into a reality for myself. Though I wouldn’t word it the same as I did back then, I can say that I saw in myself the idealistic teacher who was passionate about the teaching moments, life skills, and my subject matter and since have made it my profession. I am still as passionate about teaching and my students today as I always thought I would be. This gives me hope because I know that in order to still feel this way about my life’s work, I must be making a difference with those students whose lives cross with mine. I’m not sure if this is actually a teaching “philosophy” as much as it is a teaching “reality” for me. Teaching allows me to place a positive footprint on the world that creates a ripple effect. And the best part of all is that if I screw it up today, if I miss the moment, I am allowed to try again…tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

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