No Place for the Stagnant

“Having now had an opportunity to study schools as a headmaster as well as a teacher, I would argue that the teacher, not the curriculum, needs to be the focus of reform.  The greatest value of the curriculum proposed in this book, I now believe, is that it sustains and nurtures teachers as practitioners of the art of learning while discouraging non-learners from entering the profession…The classroom should be no place for teachers who are afraid of change, who are willing to talk about ideas ad nauseum but unwilling or unable to act on them, to experiment, to grow, to absorb new disciplines, to teach beyond themselves, their college lecture notes, their State-approved lesson plans, their textbooks.”

– David V. Hicks, in the 1990 preface of Norms & Nobility

Every teacher wants to be comfortable with their subject, courses, and routine.  We like to know what to expect and that is good and understandable.  After all, the first law of teaching according to John Milton Gregory is that the teacher must be fully equipped with the knowledge they wish to communicate.  We have to know what we are talking about, and we must know it well enough to arouse interest in our students and communicate clearly and effectively.

Yet the desire for comfort can morph into stagnation.  Rather than possessing healthy confidence, we can become entrenched in unwitting laziness.  Do we call our students to challenge themselves, to do hard things while we watch?  Or do we model what it means to be a learner, a lifelong student?

To sound the cry of “Excelsior!” while sitting contentedly in our current level of knowledge smacks of hypocrisy, and we all know that “Do as I say, not as I do” never works.

Summertime ought to be more than a break for us teachers.  A time of refreshment, certainly, but we must see it as a time for challenging ourselves as well.  Redeem the time.  Grow and stretch yourself (and not just from an abundance of naps).

  • If at all possible, attend a conference.  I hear there’s a great one coming up in Louisville.  The CiRCE Conference, “A Contemplation of Creation,” will be held from July 18th-21st.
  • Whittle down the reading list.  Every teacher I know has a list of books they’ve been meaning to read – all those books you wish you would have read when you were younger, if you had received a classical education.  If not now, when?
  • Study beyond your comfort zone.  Being a history teacher, several of my students have confessed that they simply aren’t “math people.”  Of course, I do my best to squash such artificial, dangerous assumptions…while maintaining them for myself.  Don’t know Latin?  Pick up a copy of Wheelock’s.  Not a “math person”?  Visit the Khan Academy online for some free instruction.

Do for yourself what you challenge your students to do.  Sharpen your mind.  Read, grow, study, and learn always.  Let it never be said of you that you teach because you will not do.

From my weekly column for the Circe Institute – 6/25/12

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