Tuesday, April 6, 2010
A visit to Montclair State University
Today, I was invited by Drs. Edstrom and Levine to have the pleasure of speaking to the Spanish & Italian Department and other university guests.
For me, it was particularly special because I have both my B.A. and M.A. from MSU and the memories of learning there are still intense and important. My topic was "Teaching as an inner and outer journey and why both matter."
Giving these talks, in a variety of contexts, gives me a chance to think rather deeply about what teaching means to me and how I became this particular brand of teacher. I thought about my road to becoming an undergraduate philosophy major and how my college teachers literally gave me the habits of mind which helped me live my professional and personal life.
Later, after I learned Spanish in Spain and studied literature as a graduate student in the Spanish Department at MSU, I had an equally rich experience where the wonders of literature and the skills of analysis were made apparent to me. Everything I learned was a gift from someone - an author, a teacher, who pointed the direction or a fellow student who opened my eyes to something amazing.
Giving this talk today enabled me to think about my whole life - from the sandbox to the classroom. I thought about what it is about my life journey that I carried into the classroom and how this has affected my relationship with students. One thing I have learned, is that a growing awareness of my own narrative has made me more sensitive to the stories that my students bring into schools.
The students I spoke to today were becoming teachers or were already in the classroom. Each of them had a reason to want to give back and make a difference in the live of their students. My advice was to continually search for ways to stretch one's comfort zone so that the reality our students are living could become clearer to us and we would continually develop skills to help us cross into their many worlds.
I also encouraged teachers to shout their good news from every roof top - the press, to parents, to the community because if we as teachers do not use our voices, others outside of our profession will fabricate a narrative that does not reflect our experiences. We need to boldly take the mike, take our experiences out of the classroom to the public to define what it is we do. If not, as we have seen in our hostile political environment, others will tell the public what we do, without ever having stepped into our classrooms.
I'm having a lot of memories tonight, about my experiences studying in college and graduate school. How many teachers are as lucky as I am right now and have the opportunity to go back to the very source of their intellectual development? I would suspect that it is not a very common opportunity. As Teacher of the Year, I have these experiences, but I would urge colleagues across our entire state to go and make things happen for yourselves. Even if you don't have a designation or special award, I believe that there is much you can share with the world outside of the classroom.
We are in tough times right now and it is easy to lose heart. Losing heart, however, is a luxury we cannot afford because the future needs us. For years, we have worked to become who we are. On the campus of Montclair State University today, I could almost see the shadow of my undergrad student self from 30 years. It was good to remember that young girl, with her gleaming auburn hair, so full of hope and adventure. I am receiving the benefits of that girl's efforts right now and I hope that what I do now, can help others thrive tomorrow.