Friday, July 27, 2012

Teaching, and Doing It Right

I want to start out today by thanking everyone who took the time to comment on my last post or to send me an email about my decision to step back from the Master Spinner Program.  The last couple of weeks have been very difficult for me, running the gamut from a giddy sense of freedom to deep guilt and regret.  Your kind words and support have been a great source of comfort and equilibrium as I am going through the adjustment.

Another part of the adjustment from busy college instructor to independent fibre artiste has been a great deal of navel gazing on the subject of teaching.  Do I want to continue to teach?  What do I want to teach?  Why do I want to teach?  HOW do I want to teach?

I have come to realize that I have some pretty strong beliefs about teaching and what it takes to actually be a teacher.  I am not talking about educational theory, or pedagogical techniques.  I am talking about the act of teaching.

Over the years, I have seen great teaching and I have seen terrible teaching.  I have seen these teachers in elementary and high school classrooms, in colleges and universities, in festival workshops and in seminars.  I have been inspired and nurtured, and I have been discouraged and even bullied.  I have taken the observations and lessons from all of these teachers and distilled them into my own style of teaching, and here is what I believe:

Teaching is a selfless act.  Teaching involves setting aside your own ego, your own beliefs, your own need for power and attention, and giving your students what they need to succeed.  Teaching means looking at a topic you may know inside and out with fresh eyes every time.  Teaching means taking things you think you know apart to look at the tiny details, then reassembling those things with others watching.

Teaching is NOT the act of imposing your beliefs, ideologies, and dogmas upon your students.  Teaching is not a power trip.  Teaching is not a marketing tool for your products. Teaching is not a road to fame and glory.

Teaching is a shared journey with your students.  Being a teacher means that you have to look at the topic from both your point of view and experience and the student's point of view and inexperience.  It means putting aside your own assumptions and judgemental tendencies.  It means being immensely patient and accepting of the faults and foibles of others.  Being a teacher is like being a parent; you have to put the interests of others before yours to do it successfully.

A passion for or a deep knowledge of a topic does not make a great teacher, though it certainly helps.  An enthusiasm for sharing something you love does not make a great teacher,  though this helps, too.  What makes a great teacher is the willingness to travel on the students' journey.  The willingness to embrace the needs of others and fulfill them.

I have tried over the years to live up to these beliefs.  I have not always succeeded, but with every class, I strive towards these ideals.  I have several friends who are  great teachers, both as fibre workers and in the public school systems, and they also aim towards these ideals.  They understand that teaching is not for the teacher, it is for the student, and I have seen some remarkable acts of generosity from these great human beings.

Now, not every teacher will be a great teacher, but the really good ones are working hard and learning and striving to become great.  Some of them use humour to overcome weaknesses, or take summer classes to brush up on topics they have not mastered.  Others find a niche where their strengths are better used and their weaknesses matter less.  Some find that a particular grade or a type of school is better suited to their style and strengths and they choose to teach there.  Others choose to write textbooks rather than present in a classroom.   Still others have found a place in on-line delivery.  There are many options and  many routes to great teaching.  Good and great teachers seek these options out and try them on until they find the one that fits.

And for those who are teaching who do not strive to place the student first, who cannot meet curriculum requirements because they conflict with personal beliefs, who pass out colouring sheets for "art class", who believe that belittling a student forces them to work harder to prove themselves...for you, I have this to say:  The world would be a better place if you stopped teaching. It really would.

Step aside and let the teachers who really want to TEACH do their job.

In the words of that great teacher, Yoda, "Do or do not.  There is no try."


  1. Wow... Michelle, well done. As someone who may or may not embark on the teaching path at some point in the future this is the meat and bones of teaching and very worth thinking about. I've always thought you should put your ideas to pen and paper. Just cause you've taken a break from classroom teaching doesn't mean you can't impart your knowledge in other ways. Writing takes discipline yes and it is a slower reward but you should certainly think about writing... Even if your first stab was collaborative.

  2. **round of applause** Well said!!