Several years ago, I found myself a new teacher on a faculty of a middle sized Catholic school in the northern section of the state of Pennsylvania. After a successful school beginning, I carefully planned my presentation to parents at back-to-school night.
After my talk, one of the parents came up to me, extended his hand, and said with a grin from ear to ear, “Hi, I am Seamus O’Hare! What are you?” In response, I asked, “Pardon?” I had NO idea what to do with his question.
He repeated with as much energy as before, “What are you?”
“Hmmm, ahhh (getting it). I AM a teacher!”
Ever since I was asked that question and found myself at a loss for words, I have reflected over the meaning of “am” and the importance of personal identity.
I am a (an) __________.
How many words can be used to fill in the blank line? Each substitution describes an aspect of one’s personality, talents, gifts or ministry. Each one describes a nuance of the total person. Each answer is as individual to a person as that person’s shadow or fingerprint. Each response is a piece to the puzzle of personhood — pieces that when we put them all together create a wonderful work or art!
I Am an Educator
So what does being an educator mean to me? I have been a teacher for 28 years but an educator for 31. Both words describe a different aspect of what I do in a profoundly different manner. A teacher instructs specific skills and content according to a curriculum and developmental level. An educator coaches individuals to become what is essential — to develop into human beings who are fully alive.
A trainee teacher, writing in the blog, “Teachers that Made A Difference” says it in this way:
Even though content is important, it is by no means the only thing our students need. (We need) an integrative approach to teaching in which students are guided towards self-discovery and integration of what they have learnt into their lives. We should not teach English to our students but give them the learning tools with which they will go on learning after their schooling is over. (Ernesto Sabato) says that instead of knowledge students should be given only the essential contents from which they will build their own knowledge. Teaching does not finish when we give our students the information … Information and content can be taken, nowadays, from many sources, but the ability to think, reason and criticize can only be incorporated if our teachers foster and encourage them. We do not need to teach our students every single thing we know, but what we teach should be done passionately and with the intention to form full human beings as the main goal.
For me, educating others instills a sense of awe or wonder over every aspect of life and every part of any curriculum. The experience of awe over learning is part of the high expectation every true educator has for every learner. Awe is often the expression that tells us what learners have actually achieved. When there is a discrepancy between expectation and performance, then the educator doesn’t give up on underachievers, and often finds a “Plan B” for that learner’s success.
An educator stands shoulder to shoulder with the learner and shares a vision of what can be or how to make the past better. Exploration of facts can lead to deep questioning that instills marvel and astonishment. This can assist the learner to journey through the joys and frustrations of trying out something new. The educator is there to support, encourage and lend a guiding hand to what can be at times the “painful” experience of learning deeply.
The critical importance of trust
Finally and not the least important, an educator establishes a rapport with the learners charged to their care. This relationship instills mutual trust and caring. If we are going to help learners reach out and do something that has never been tried, trust is a key tool in our educator’s workshop. Trust is not earned overnight but through time and testing. Learners need to know that educators truly CARE about them; love them.
Pope Benedict XVI in his message for the Celebration of World Day of Peace, January 1, 2012 declares:
Education is the most interesting and difficult adventure in life. Educating – from the Latin educere – means leading young people to move beyond themselves and introducing them to reality, towards a fullness that leads to growth. This process is fostered by the encounter of two freedoms, that of adults and that of the young. It calls for responsibility on the part of the learners, who must be open to being led to the knowledge of reality, and on the part of educators, who must be ready to give of themselves. For this reason, today more than ever we need authentic witnesses, and not simply people who parcel out rules and facts; we need witnesses capable of seeing farther than others because their life is so much broader. A witness is someone who first lives the life that he proposes to others.
So, if someone like Seamus O’Hare walked up to you, smiled and said, What are you?, how would you answer?