Teachers That Make A Difference

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. ~Benjamin Franklin

Since this week is teacher appreciation week, I took a moment today to think about and pray for all the teachers that impacted my life, helping me to grow into the person that I am today. No one is a “self-made” person. I realize that many people think they are, but the truth of the matter is that we are all products of our biology and biography.

When I speak in public, my father’s friends hear my dad.

When I play the piano, the inspiration of Keith Green paved the way.

When I write, an army of dead biblio-mentors sing through my words.

So, in more ways than we know, we are products of the investments, good and bad, of other people. Teachers make a sizeable investment into the forging of our lives. Here are a few of the teachers that I thought of today:

1. Mrs. Stein, my first grade teacher. Yes, truly she was my first crush. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. The most talented woman in the world. The best at just… everything! Many smitten school-boys would find themselves accidentally hanging out near her house. Luckily for me she lived in the neighborhood. 1st grade is a crucial year. First grade teachers help us become students, little humans, entering into the journey of learning. Thank you Mrs. Stein.

2. Mr. Grady, my 7th – 12th grade band teacher. More than any other teacher, Mr. Grady, or JW as we called him, impacted my life. He was a true renaissance man. He wanted us cultured, savvy, engaged and involved in the music. He challenged me more than any other teacher…forgave me more than any other teacher…frustrated me more than any other teacher…and invested in me more than any other teacher. My continued involvement with music to this day is because of his investment in me. Music has not merely been a thing I do, but truly, a core piece of who I am. Of all the teachers that I have had, he is the one that I hope is proud of who I have become. Thank you Mr. Grady.

3. Ms. Itig, freshman literature teacher. Ok, maybe another slight crush here (you see the pattern right), but, for the first time in my life I developed a love and hunger for reading. It all began with the book “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and today you might say I have a reading addiction. Thank you Ms. Itig.

4. Mr. Kelly, US History and World Civ. teacher. Mr. Kelly was also my church league basketball coach when I was just a little guy, so I thought I would have an easy go of it in his class…not so much. Mr. Kelly was an incredible teacher, and my time with him opened my eyes to justice issues, government structures and problems as well as skills in navigating the civilization in which we live. Mr. Kelly introduced me to Leo Buscaglia who in turn opened up a beautiful concept of love that was beyond my experience. He seemed tough on the outside, but I could tell he cared for all his students. Thank you Mr. Kelly.

The teachers that I remember the most are the ones who went beyond teaching a core curriculum and involved me in something bigger.

Jean Piaget tells us that:

The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.

Education is so much more than test scores and memorizing data.

It is about the curation of the soul…

It is about the formation of the heart…

It is about the unleashing and expansion of the mind beyond the understanding of the previous generations…

In many ways education is a dance between student and teacher as they discover the music that each bring to the process. In an article titled “Uncommon Core” my friend Steve Peha writes:

Education is a deeply personal endeavor. Just as every learner  is unique, so is every teacher. Educators have many things in common, but at their core each possesses something uncommon: their individuality. What makes us unique can’t easily be defined. But in education, it often has to do with the strengths, affinities, and experiences that educators bring to their work and that students bring to school with them each day.  This is the uncommon core. It’s not just what makes us unique, it’s often what makes us uniquely successful. When we tap our strengths, we find the talent to master our challenges. When we tune our attitudes, we connect with a purpose larger than ourselves. When we turn to our affinities—the things to which we are naturally attracted—we unleash our passions and discover our dreams. (check out his web site teaching that makes sense)

The teachers that make the greatest impact are those who have integrated their passion and their understanding together to create a learning environment. In this sense, the best teachers are artists not just information portals.

The art of teaching is a gift, and can easily be lost when we measure the wrong things. In his book “The Courage To Teach” Parker Palmer notes: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” 

So, to all the teachers out there:

  • Thank you for the long hours you put in most days beyond the contract…
  • Thank you for investing your own money into the lives of your students when the funding doesn’t cover it…
  • Thank you for lovingly caring for a classroom full of kids that lack grace and manners…
  • Thank you for seeing the gold in our children that most people miss…
  • Thank you for creating a world of learning and not just regurgitating the information in the book…
  • Thank you for teaching our kids how to think, not just what to think…
  • Thank you for choosing a career that doesn’t always get many thanks…

This week teachers, may you be reminded of who you are:

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” ~Robert Frost

mirror, mirror on the wall…

I remember those lines. They were delivered with such a drippingly powerful intensity that you actually felt sorry for the mirror!

"mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all."

The wicked queen was not gazing into the mirror for truth, but for vanity and ego appeasement. When we look into a mirror we have the choice to look inward and grow, or deflect what we see and live in the land of denial which ultimately shrivels the soul, and diminishes the truth about God.

A person who leads or teaches has the capacity to enlarge their soul in greater proportions than those she/he leads. A great leader or teacher is not one who simply regurgitates data to an audience, but one who dances in and out of the truth, sweating through the unknown in order to create an atmosphere of epiphany and understanding.

In my own world, most often as I wrestle with the things that I am to teach in the realm of spiritual formation or leadership, I am faced with my own inadequacies, brokenness, and desperate need of God.

One of my leadership life commandments has been that: "I won't be like a travel agent who sells people on a destination that he himself has never been." That means that I have had to lay my soul on the altar over and over again.

Education has a cost. It is the cost of integrity forming in us what we have learned. If we do not allow what we have be enlightened with or to, to transform us, we have chosen to leave the gift unopened.

I have found that it is easier to regurgitate information, or prepare a great and enthusiastic speech about places we have never been than it is to set the ego aside, admit our self-focus as well as our self-hatred at times, and allow God to move through us. But the results of the latter far outweigh the former.

In Parker Palmer's great book, "The Courage To Teach" he notes:

"Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one's inwardness,
better or worse. As I teach I project the condition of my soul onto my
my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I
experience in the
classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner
Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am
willing to
look in that mirror and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain
self-knowledge–and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as
knowing my
students and my subject." 

When we don't like what we see in the mirror of enlightenment, we have a divine choice…we can either move toward what frightens us, and grow, or back away reducing our depth and self-understanding to information distribution.

The condition of our soul enters into everything we do as humans. The way we relate or don't relate. The way we choose to respond or thoughtlessly react. The way we communicate through a discussion or evade one altogether. The way we dialog through conflict or deny their is conflict.

Teaching/leading has created an atmosphere in my life where I have to continually look in the mirror and do something about what I see. Though it's never easy, and often painful, it is also a great blessing. The more I deal with and heal the image of myself in the mirror, the more I heal the man-made image of God I also carry in my soul.

When we look in the mirror, we often see a Pandora's box of paradox, In the book "The Ragamuffin' Gospel" Brennan Manning noted the following as he honestly assessed his heart:

"When I get honest, I admit
I am a bundle
of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love
and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not
guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play
Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an
capacity for beer."

Brennan has a great way with words! Often when we see the paradoxes that dwell within they scare us and we stop looking. We are afraid of being accepted by God and others due to what we see that we don't like. So we live a life of cover-up or performance hoping -that- will make up for the deficiencies we see in our lives. But this simply creates a new religion for you to live out…Christ came to free you from that trap. I like how Manning re-centers us on the Gospel of God's grace:

God's love is based on
and the fact that it is based on nothing makes us secure. Were it based
on anything we do, and that "anything" were to collapse, then God's love
would crumble as well. But with the God of Jesus no such thing can
happen. People who realize this can live freely and to the fullest.
Atlas, who carries the whole world? We have Christian Atlases who
carry the burden of trying to deserve God's love. Even the mere watching
of this lifestyle is depressing. I'd like to say to Atlas: 'Put that
down and dance on it. That's why God made it.' And to the weary
Atlases: "Lay down your load and build your life on God's love." We
have to earn this love; neither do we have to support it. It is a free
gift. Jesus calls out: "Come to me, all you Atlases who are weary and
life burdensome, and I will refresh you."

If you have never stepped out in leadership, or decided to teach someone else, let me encourage you to look for an opportunity. It will cause you to look at who you truly are. It will create an awareness of who your really are. It will force you to consider some of your held beliefs about God that are more than likely false. This will bring you to a new and truer awareness of who you are and who God is…and that is where real growth happens.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…who's the fairest of them all? Now the mirror can honestly respond, "Jesus is, and do you know what? He thinks your incredible."

Dei Gratia,