This video has made the viral rounds on the internet this past week showing a Texas student having a verbal showdown with their teacher. I showed this to my own classes of Sophomores and Juniors today, and now they are currently writing a response paper describing their own “philosophy of education.” What should education be? What should the classroom look like? How free should thoughts and information flow between teacher and student in the classroom? These were all questions posed to me when I was finishing up my degree. Questions wrapped up in a required ten-page declaration that I presented before a board in order to graduate. Perhaps a board of teachers may never read the words my students are currently writing, but I hope that going forward they also demand that their voices are heard. So I submit to you my response to my students them after viewing this video with them:
Teachers are not Gods. They are people – flawed humans – with a limit to their own level of knowledge. They are a figure of authority, but not meant to be merely bosses. Students are the customers of a teacher. Customers that require the most excellent degree of service that we have to offer. Becoming a teacher is not a destination, but a commitment to be forever a student – forever learning. And the greatest source of learning available to a teacher is the students themselves.
There is a time, place, and way of confronting a teacher, but the day that a teacher feels that they have nothing to learn from their students, or that students have no right to contest them – is the day that they should immediately resign. In this classroom (as I have said before) I call for students to contest what I say openly and often – as long as they can support their position and that we all address each other respectfully.
One such student took me up on this offer just last week, and voiced his frustration with the pacing of the class in my second period. The class is notably a slower one, with a wider range of student proficiencies, but that does not mean any advanced student should quietly suffer. I thanked him for his feedback and for having the courage to challenge me where he thought I was lacking. More importantly, I apologized, and gave him a much more difficult and advanced independent project.
I am not perfect. I am a person just like you with my own issues and stresses. Some days I am knocking it out of the park and feel like I couldn’t do my job any better. Others, I feel like I am chasing a metaphorical bus. But I continue to do the very best I can, as much as I can, because the student in the video was right – students are the future.
Each trimester I begin class with a fresh batch of students and a shared sentiment. It is a statement that is the very core of my educational philosophy: It is not my job to teach you anything. It is my job to teach you how to teach yourselves, and help you learn how to think critically. Memorizing for a test is not learning. Doing a bunch of worksheets is not learning. Learning is relationships. Learning is discovery. Learning is exploration. Learning is doing the work for the intrinsic value and not the letter grade.
Likewise – teaching is not just talking at someone. Teaching is not thinking that you know everything. Teaching is not planning out busy work. Teaching is relationships. Teaching is listening. Teaching is being a kind friend and father/mother figure to those that have none. Teaching is giving youth a voice and the strength to use it. Teaching is hoping each and every student surpasses you – not holding them down or demanding their worship.
To address some of the things students have told me about what is happening to them in other classes – Teaching is never about telling a student that they are worthless. Teaching is never telling a student that they have a reputation, or that other teachers do not like them. Teaching is never padding your roster with the good little kids and dumping “lost causes” on someone else. Teaching is never kicking out students that struggle or make mistakes. Teaching is never about telling a kid they will not amount to anything.
You should not be a teacher’s favorite because of what sport you can play, what your family name is, or for being able to keep your head down and mouth shut. You should be a teacher’s favorite because you bust your ass all on your own, and because you are constantly questioning everything. You should be a favorite for standing up to whoever and for whatever you believe in. The very best student is the one that can do exactly what this young man did in this video – demand an education.
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