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Teaching: The Power of Service

Teaching: The Power of Service

Kevin Bibo |

My writing about teaching started while I was substitute teaching. I drafted a list of 10 to 12 rules for subs. My list included things like, “Don’t read the newspaper in class,” and, “Be prepared to DO SOMETHING when the lesson plan is missing.” I’ve long ago lost the file, but I vividly remember number 1 on the list, “It’s not about you.”

Teaching is complicated and complex. It is a service that requires one who is willing to think deeply about and respond appropriately and accurately to the needs of the students. Teachers must be willing and able to focus both on the needs of the individual and the needs of the class as a whole. Then, the teacher has to figure out how to serve both needs, sometimes at the same time and usually without assistance. This requires hours upon hours of preparation before class, and usually a significant amount of time after class spent on assessment. I honestly believe that teachers are heroes, but it’s not the superpower of powerful lesson planning that is our greatest strength. Rather, it is our willingness to be selfless in our service to each and every student that is super. Super teachers make every single student feel special and help them reach their goals.

However, a teacher who turns the focus of their efforts on themselves is doing their students and the teaching profession a real disservice, no matter how talented or seemingly effective the teacher may be. While regular personal teacher reflection is vitally important, shared publicly or not, the public presentation of the teacher as an “expert,” or “guru,” or even a “rookie,” or, “newbie” has no bearing at all on their effectiveness with students and classes as a whole. Even the most accomplished teachers sometimes fail their students, and a completely floundering new teacher can often inspire a student who appreciates the teacher’s effort, however unrefined. It is the selflessness of the act of teaching, the teacher’s willingness to meet students at any level, and the ushering of students toward success that makes the real difference in life.

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Teaching is evolving. Individual needs are growing and expanding in ways that make the old shotgun approach to teaching miss most of the targets- the students. While I have no crystal ball, and I cannot read any educational tarot cards, I have a sense that the way teachers provide service to students is about to dramatically change. Right now, most teachers teach in a way that is comfortable for them; this is not a bad thing. I do it. However, with the aid of technology in the classroom (for those schools with the budget to take advantage of it) teachers can now focus more specifically on serving the individual needs of students. Computers can distribute information, which frees up teachers to be the “guide on the side.” I teach in a computer classroom, so I know first hand what its like to be the second most impressive disseminator in the room.

Of course, teaching aids of many types have been available as long as teachers have taught. Gizmos and gadgets cannot, and will not, replace a caring individual willing to take time to listen to, understand, and assist a young mind in need. Our focus as a professional learning community of educators should always be to provide service to the needs of our students, no matter how diverse or challenging those needs may be. While I am willing to admit that I teach for myself because I enjoy teaching and I love to spend time around young people, I am not the only reason I teach. The time I spend in the classroom teaching is not about me; it’s about the students.

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