I just came home from attending our graduation. I gave the closing speech, sending off all the teachers to adventures in classrooms in Korea and around the world. Another honor I’m humbled by and my speech below (not the exact speech, I actually always get “off topic” and it is there where a lot of the learning happens!) is about sharing some lessons I’ve learned over the years. I considered using “Oh, the places you’ll go! ” by Dr. Seuss but went with my heart, my own heart. But Dr. Seuss makes a great graduation speech — oh the places youll go.ppt (Here’s my online presentation Teaching Is …
So I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is – you’ve graduated! (applause). The bad news is you got to get out there and teach every day!
Okay, I’m half joking. Teaching isn’t that bad. But it is a roller coaster, so be prepared. My sister followed in my footsteps and became a teacher. I speak to her from time to time and I can always tell from the sound of her voice, whether she’s had a bad teaching week or a great one. Ain’t no inbetween!
And that’s teaching, never a dull moment. Be warned. Be patient and the bad moments always wane and the sky opens, joy appears. It’s a rollercoaster.
Let me start with a story, “The Girl and the Butterfly”.
There was a young girl who wanted to be a great teacher. She was sitting at home one rainy summer’s day and was annoyed by a butterfly trapped inside and beating its wings against the window. Angrily, she got up and grabbed a newspaper to kill the butterfly. However, as she approached, she heard a faint voice, “Don’t kill me, you need me, you need me. Don’t kill me, you need me, you need me. “
Okay, now on with my presentation about teaching. Oh! You want to hear the end of the story? Well, if you listen well to what I’ve got to say – I’ll tell you the ending. Just be sure to remind me, okay?
I’ve been teaching quite a few years and I’ve stored away some jars of kimchee, some kernels of truth that might get me through those rainy days. Let me share them briefly with you
One. Teaching is a delicate thing. Be careful, respect how important you are. You are an engineer of human souls (to borrow Stalin’s term for writers). You effect and touch eternity. Remember that – as much good as you do, so to you may do harm. Be gentle, tread lightly and always think of that main objective of education – HAPPINESS. Foster and develop community in your classroom and the learning will take care of itself. There is a reason why teaching is closely aligned with patience, peace, understanding.
Two. Teaching is the art of the every day. It is made of a million small acts. And those acts should be beautiful. Yes, dream big but remember that teaching is done one thing, one step at a time. One nose wipe, one lesson plan, one check mark at a time. Do each of those well and your garden will be green. Or as Voltaire once said, “cultivez votre gardin” – take care of your own garden and your beauty will multiply.
Three. Teaching is serving and sharing. It is being transparent and honest enough to say, “I don’t know but let’s find out”. Indeed, this is the biggest message I’ve learned over the years – that teaching IS service. A calling to make the world a better place through your actions. Share yourself and your teaching and you spread a great wind of justice and “the good” throughout the world. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said it much better than I ever could.
Four. Teaching is learning. I learned so much from you! Yes, it is true. From ideas on how to teach “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar” to thoughts about linguistic transfer. You’ve taught me a lot. And as a teacher, if you are to survive out there – you’ll have to keep curious and keep open and keep learning from your students. They have a lot to teach you.
Five, a most important one. Teaching is teaching those in need, those who can’t make it on their own. It is about the lower level and struggling students. Count your successes by these students – how you’ve helped them. The others, the brilliant and motivated students – they will make it with or without you. You are a teacher for the others, those that can’t and those that need you.
Lastly, one of the hardest truths. Teaching is saying good bye over and over and over. It is a treadmill and on that treadmill pass so many people we form relationships with, who we commit to and share great parts of our day. They come and pass constantly. That’s tough. I was told this by my own teaching mentor during a practice teaching session way back when. Never understood it until recently. Every good thing has a cost. This is ours. So in ending, I’ll say congratulations and “good bye”.
Oh, yes, the story about the girl and the butterfly! I almost forgot.
Well, that girl grew up to become a teacher, one of the greatest and most revered teachers ever. She touched thousands of lives. One day, very old, she was dying in the hospital. All her dear friends were gathered around her bedside. They asked her one last thing, “Please tell us your secret to being such a great teacher.” The old lady replied, “Remember that story about the butterfly? Well, when I opened the window and let it free, it turned into a beautiful angel. And that angel told me that my reward would be that wherever I went, I’d find students that need me. And so it came to pass. Wherever I taught, I found students who needed me. And it was through that need, that I became a great teacher. The secret is being needed by your students.
So go out there and find students that need you. There are many and you can make a difference!