What is the role of a teacher?

cake

Yesterday, a student baked this cake. For me. The same student organised a class party but refused to call it that: “It’s not a class party, it’s a party for Mister because he’s leaving us.”

This student is one I waited for hours all up, chased down the hall, argued with, copped verbal abuse from, endured her raging fury and theatrical walk-offs, refused her blackmail, nagged, annoyed with ‘stupid boring stuff’ I had to teach, sent out, warned, reported, gave fail or sub-standard grade, raised voice at countless times and more. When I told staff she’d baked a cake, the incredulous looks said it all.

I also stood up for her when bullied, given her space when needed, sent her out not to punish but to just be when clearly upset, given assessment alternatives, extensions, looked the other way over small stuff sometimes, explained when asked for and more.

Most of all, I never held a grudge. Every day, we started with a clean slate. One of us, or both, just ‘had a bad day’. She knew that, as bad as it got the day before, I’d welcome her without a sigh or frown the very next day. This built the all-important net of safety and trust this student could count on.

There is no box to tick about it. It doesn’t register. There is no ‘tool’ for it nor is it new, ‘revolutionary’ in any way. But it helped us both to learn, be. It helped us not to just get along but sometimes have a conversation, a task, an act to learn all sorts of things from and achieve some, if seemingly little, academic success. The cake says we got something right, with much left to do.

Is this some kind of ‘outstanding teaching’ thing? No, not really. It’s what thousands of my colleagues do, day in day out, around the world.

Which invites the question as basic as it is open-ended: What is the role of a teacher? I invite you to read this ponder by Bill Boyle and watch the outstanding video below (well worth a few minutes of your time, the end is particularly poignant). I cheat here and say ‘me too’ to both these sources because in so many ways they echo my sentiment more eloquently than I can.

Getting the foundational answer to that question right is more important than any of the stuff the revolutionaries, reformers and regurgitators would have us believe.

I hope you have a peaceful and wonderful festive season and, to my Southern Hemisphere colleagues – a case of great summer holidays.

PS For the record … 6 of my 25 Year 10s that bothered to turn up today simply sneaked out of class five minutes before time as I returned a cord to the office, not a kind word uttered or a gesture made. This after a year spent together and loads of effort and considerable expense on my part. I’d rather them say ‘screw you’ than that but … it is what it is. Just so you don’t think I operate in some magic edu-land.

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