Oct 29

The Teacher We Are, The Student We Were

I was speaking at the School Library Journal Leadership Conference on Saturday when I accidentally stumbled upon an idea that was a real evolution of the stuff I think. (It’s one of the really good things about public speaking – especially when you only have an outline, not a ‘speech,’ talking about what you believe to different audiences can really cause you to examine what you actually believe – out loud and for an audience to see. But I digress.)

Much of the conference was focused on the need for the role of libraries to evolve, and I asked the following questions:

“How many of you were A and B students in school?”

And around 95% of the room raised their hands.

And I asked, “How many of you, when you were in school, really just wanted a quiet place to read books?”

And about 80% of the room raised their hands.

And I asked, “How many of you have built the library you wanted when you were a student… and who is excluded from your vision?”

And the room was quiet.

Now, I talk a lot about the need to unlearn, but I usually talk about it in terms of our own evolution as educators, but the more I think about it, the same holds true for thinking about our own evolution from before we became educators.

Most teachers I talked to were good at school, and I’d argue that much of the effort we undertake is to help kids be good at the same kind of classroom we loved the most. And while we want all kids to be good in that classroom, we have to ask ourselves — who do we accidentally value most in our classrooms?

When I started teaching, I hated silence in class discussions, so I called on the first person to raise their hand. And not shockingly, that was the kind of kid I was in class (when I liked the teacher.) It took me time to learn to appreciate the silence as more kids thought of something to say. It took me time to learn to let kids write out ideas before opening up class discussion. It took me time to discover ways to create a classroom that wasn’t just the classroom I wanted when I was in school.

It makes sense. Every teacher walks into their own classroom with the ghosts of the experiences s/he had as a student. And most folks, just by human nature, would want their classroom to be a place that the younger version of themselves would enjoy. That’s not a bad place to start, but it cannot be the end.

The teacher we are today is, without question, informed by the student we were. But we have to make sure that we create a vision of our classrooms — and our schools — that include all students in that vision, not just in ways to “make them fit,” but to create spaces where all students can find themselves and find success.