If you become a teacher, says Anna Leonowens in the classic musical The King and I, your pupils will end up teaching you. (That’s not exactly how the line goes, but I can’t quote songs on a blog without infringing copyright.) But you get the idea. 🙂
And it’s true. We’re into our sixth week of school already at the K-12 international school where I teach, and it’s been busy—especially with adding 7th grade English to my usual high school English classes this year. But it’s good. And I’ve definitely learned as much or more than my students have in these past going-on-three years of teaching!
Here are a few of the areas where my students teach me.
Teaching is tiring and often stressful, but sometimes, it’s just plain fun. My students crack me up and help me not to take myself—or them—too seriously. Last week a group in my World Lit class led us in a lively game of Jeopardy for almost the whole class period, all built around A Tale of Two Cities and Les Misrables. It was great review for our upcoming unit test, and everyone had a blast!
One of the keys I’ve learned to teaching is that it helps enormously to have a plan—but expect it to change. I can’t tell how many times I’ve come to class planning one thing, only to have some unexpected circumstance—whether students struggling with an assignment, the wifi not working, or a fire drill—completely turn my plan on its head. And I’ve learned that’s okay. My students also help me be flexible with their different learning styles. Some things may take far longer to learn than I expected, or certain students may need it explained in a new way or an assignment adapted differently. They keep me thinking flexibly and creatively.
On a similar note, my students constantly push me to be more creative. I think students learn better—really, anyone does—when they enjoy it. Trying different ways to engage my students has prompted me to come up with ideas I might not have otherwise, like our perennially popular Vocab Charades, staged Shakespeare scenes, or games where teams compete to list strong verbs and interesting adjectives to liven up their writing. And (see #1) it’s fun!
This is a hard one for me, quiet people-pleaser that I am, but my students have helped me grow in being firm when necessary. They know I love them, but they also know there are certain lines they can’t cross. Perhaps most important is following through on a stated consequence, because then they know I mean what I say.
- Differing Strengths
One of the most humbling things I’ve learned in teaching is the different strengths each student carries—and that sometimes their non-academic strengths don’t get to shine in the classroom until an unusual opportunity can bring them out. Despite our society’s emphasis on accomplishment and good grades, there are so many other important—often more important—ways to succeed. Seeing students who struggle academically excel on the worship team or basketball court, in volunteering to serve their classmates and teachers or loving and playing with children from immigrant families on our Serve Week never fails to open my eyes their strengths in new ways, and to appreciate the unique gifting of God on each young man or woman.
Working at an international school, I love the variety of cultural perspectives our students bring to class. Young people from different backgrounds—often even different countries—than I am broaden my perspective and teach me more about the world. I love it when a Chinese or Korean student teaches our class about a famous poet from his or her national heritage, or one of my Latino/a or African-American students adds his or her unique cultural perspective to a class discussion.
Being with an array of students of all different cultural, national, and family backgrounds—as well as different levels of learning and ability—gives us all the opportunity each day to show love. They show love to me when they are patient with my mistakes and fallibility, and I hope I show it to them as well…whether they did their homework that day or not. Because, after all, that is how the Lord Jesus, the Teacher of teachers, treats us.
Have you ever been a teacher, in any context? How did your students teach you? Or did you ever have a teacher learn from you as a student? I’d love to hear your stories!