Thursday, January 14, 2010

Educators for Edification

Educators for Edification
It’s strange; the things come to mind, when I start to think about the educators who have been in my life.  When I was in third grade I heard a new word, homicide.  I didn’t know what it meant but I knew that it was bad and I was going to use it.  While talking with my friend, Stan, I said “You’re a homicide.”  He then told the teacher that I’d called him a homosexual.  I said I’d called him a homicide and he said that they meant the same thing.  Of course they didn’t but I still got in trouble for calling him a name.  Mrs. Brewer, the teacher, taught me an important lesson that day.  Sure I got in trouble for calling my friend a name but the lesson that really stuck with me was that I shouldn’t use words that I can’t define. 
It was Mrs. Brewer’s job, as an educator, to teach me about math, geography and grammar; but she taught me so much more.  So, what is the role of an educator?  On the surface most people might say that the educator serves to teach how or why.  How does math work?  Why do we have a Constitution?  But the role of the educator is so much more than that.
Educators prepare us for us for the things that we encounter.  They teach us the answers to questions but they also give us the tools to find our own answers.  Dr. Athena du Pre, a professor at the University of West Florida, does just that.  She places her students in situations where there is no clear answer.  Then, like a parent teaching a child to ride a bicycle, she lets go.  Pedal or fall the class is set out to make the next move.  The students have been given the tools to find the path to their goal and it is their responsibility to see that they achieve it.  That is not to say that if there are stumbling blocks along the way she will simply let the students fail.  Not at all; those are opportunities for her to reiterate what has already been taught.  The parent will help the child back onto the bicycle but then, once rolling, she lets go of the seat and handlebars once again.  So, the educator teaches facts, gives tools and allows the students to explore; but what about the student?  Does the educator teach the student anything about himself?
Another professor at the University of West Florida, Dr. Gretchen Holmes, does just this.  Students working toward a certificate in Healthcare Ethics as part of their master’s degree are given the opportunity to look within themselves to find answers to ethical dilemmas.  Over the span of four courses students are asked to write papers about their own experiences and views.  These papers coax things from within the student; harsh truths, deep emotions and buried memories help to put into perspective things that other people deal with as they relate to the medical community and ethics; or sometimes what seems to be a lack of ethics.  It’s only through learning more about one’s self that a better understanding of others can be attained.  Empathy, a word that I learned in school, can be profound and powerful.  Forming a relation between one’s own experiences and those being faced by someone else puts a heavy burden on the soul; but in doing so it strengthens the empathetic party.
So, educators teach facts, give tools to allow the student to explore and force the student to look within himself to understand how the fabric of himself is woven.  That’s not the whole of their role.  Educators also learn about their students, find out what makes them tick, and then push them to the edge of their capabilities.  Grading can become subjective and the instructor can have the opportunity to score a student based on capabilities rather than as part of the class as a whole.  While at the University of West Alabama I worked with an instructor in the art department, Jason Guynes.  He saw potential in my painting and graded my work accordingly.  A piece that clearly had better use of color and form than ones done by my classmates may have received a lower grade because Jason thought that I hadn’t stretched my potential.  While the grade may have been a disappointment the message that he was sending was powerful and uplifting.  I had created an expressive work of art but if I truly looked within myself I could see that I could have done better.  He saw this potential and that boosted my morale; or in a more relatable term, my self esteem.
This brings me to the last real role of an educator.  They lift us up and help us to realize our true potential.  Encouragement is possibly the most important role of the educator at the college and post graduate level.  The tools provided and lessons learned at this level of education are going to be soaked up by minds of people who want to be in school and learning.  The extra push provided by the educator that says “You’re good at this!” in a sense scoops out a place in the student’s mind that can then be filled with more learning about whatever it is that he’s good at and enjoys.
If I think back at all of the teachers who have taught me it’s only the ones who truly taught me something useful who stick out in my mind.  There are only a few, in the line of so many, who are truly good at their craft.  My first grade teacher, Mrs. Holycross; my third grade teacher, Mrs. Brewer and my seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Watkins are the only teachers from elementary and high school who stand out above their peers.  In college Dr. Peper, Dr. Carr, Jason Guynes, James McGahey and Dr. Taylor showed me so much about myself and my potential.  Now, working on my master’s degree Dr. Holmes and Dr. du Pre have helped me so much more than I had anticipated.  I have grown as a writer in the last six months due, in part, to their encouragement. 
So, here I am.  My toes curled over the edge, carrying a heavy burden and full of hope for a future that I might possibly make happen.  A future that I know only I can make happen but only because of the educators who have pushed and sometimes shoved me along the way.


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  2. Dan, Another great post. Wish educators here in Singapore were like that. Unfortunately a lot of them tend to denigrate the slower students. I suffered in the school system in Singapore, and then I went to boarding school. I will always be grateful for my teachers in Oregon.

  3. I'm glad that you enjoyed your American education. Hopefully I will find myself visiting Singapore someday and get a bit of first hand experience with the societal differences.