In the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Elliot, our speaker finds himself faced with a dilemma. He is attending a party where “in the room women come and go talking of Michelangelo,” an environment where he feels completely out of place. He asks himself, “Do I dare? Do I dare? Time to turn back and descend the stair, with a bald spot in the middle of my hair?” Clearly, he is self-conscious about his perceived deficiencies and how he will be received by the attendees at the function. As he approaches a group of women in conversation, he asks himself, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” Do I dare enter into this unfamiliar territory? Ultimately, he decides that the answer is yes.
What does any of this have to do with teaching? Our job is to not only provide our students with the skills they need to be successful, but to create an environment where students can answer the same question as the narrator above and supply the same answer. Part of what we do as educators is encourage students to move beyond what is familiar and go where they have not gone before. This means taking risks, asking questions, exploring ideas, and pushing the envelope of what they believe their best work is. This, by the way, refers to us as teachers too.
Whether you are a brand new teacher or one seasoned with the years, change can be scary and as teachers, we tend to be creatures of habit. Truthfully, preferring to stay in places of comfort has less to do with being a teacher and more to do with being human. As a whole, we don’t like change and we hate when someone moves our cheese. But, it is my belief, that we should never ask our students to do what we are not willing to do ourselves. If we want them to take risks, we must take risks. If we want them to try something new, we must try something new also. We do not teach a generation of “seat sitters,” those who are perfectly content taking notes and listening to a lecture. In fact, I’m not entirely sure educators ever have. I think, perhaps, we wanted them to be “seat sitters” because they are far less intimidating and challenging than those who always seem to want to jump at the sun. But, our world is made up of dreamers and risk takers who were “sun jumpers” when they were in school and where we be had they not been allowed to fly?
One of my favorite students wrote on my whiteboard recently, “only crazy people change the world.” I laughed because I had also recently heard someone say, “anyone who decides to be a teacher these days must be nuts.” Well, I suspect we may very well be. But in our defense, we couldn’t help it. Good teachers, decide to teach. Great teachers are born to teach. It is my humble opinion that no one ever really decides to become teacher. We are not the products of years of education, or days spent pouring over books in the library, or even hours of reading under a blanket with a flashlight, making bottle rockets in the back yard, or running our own lemonade stand. True teachers are not made. They are born. I truly believe that somewhere in the distant future scientists are going to discover that teachers all share the same genetic make-up, some miniscule piece of information on some chromosome somewhere that, while we’re still being formed in our mother’s wombs, determines our eventual professional destiny, whether we like it or not.
Your challenge today: Dare to disturb the universe. Both your students and your own. Teach your children to jump at the sun. Better yet. Lead them there yourself.