TEACHING & LEARNING
Richard E. Klinck
1965 National Teacher of the Year
I am a teacher.
I do not believe anyone has ever had a more proud statement to make. I do not whisper it, or say it off handedly, for I am proud, glad to have been somehow chosen for what is certainly one of the greatest opportunities in all of human endeavor. I say it sincerely, for everyone to hear. I believe it fully. I am proud to be a teacher.
As a teacher I have a classroom – a miniature world – where every day a group of students comes. Some come willingly, openly curious and anxious to know and to learn. Others come for conformity, by necessity, with a certain reluctance to learn and a deep unawareness of the magic of knowledge that is all around them. They come from a variety of homes, from a variety of pasts, to the present. And I for a while am their future. They have come together and they are my class and I am a teacher – their teacher.
I am no mere gatherer of information that I shall use to make mimeograph-minds – each exactly like the others. To be but this is not to be a teacher. Instead, I shall teach the thrill of absorbing knowledge. When each day is done I will have passed a few pages along in each of the texts, in each of the subjects, but if I have done that, and no more, I have failed. My day – and, more especially, theirs – was worthless. But in that day – each minute of each hour – I will have taught how to think, how to study, how to select fact from fiction, how to form opinion, how to laugh a t one’s self, how to select and create a code of conduct, how to observe and collect and record ideas. Every minute – every hour – with no time wasted, for we have so much to learn.
And the learning comes in sitting quietly and dreaming for a moment or two;; in listening to a fellow classmate and evaluating what he did or what he had to say;; in joining in laughter when something is funny;; in listening for the sounds that make up our world;; in looking to the mountains and to the sky and wondering, always wondering;; and in a multitude of other things – but never wasting a moment on the crude and the vulgar and the worthless.
It is a big order, being a teacher. I can never escape it. Every moment of my waking hours is a part of being a teacher. The way out does not exist, nor should it. There is no eight-hour day in my profession. For my attitudes, my ideals, my activities all seem to gravitate around the fact that I am a teacher. I become – or try to become – what I challenge others to become aware of their world, awake to its romance and adventure and weaknesses. And so I am always alert to an idea I can use in class;; a bit of knowledge that may apply here or cause one of my students to better see;; an observation that is illuminating to me and may be so to those I teach;; a situation that needs improvement;; an opportunity to learn myself. So I am a teacher all of the time. I reach out to every chance to learn and to teach, finding the chances are always all around me.
I teach how to think, more than what to think. But by thought, deed, and example, I teach the “what” to think as vividly as I can. Therefore, I must be constantly self-critical or I cannot teach. I must attempt to be constantly humble and unassuming as I try to find the path to what must be the proper thought, the proper deed, the proper example.
I speak knowing some of my words will never be heard, while others will take root and flourish. It does not bother me that all I say is not heard -only that the wrong part will not be heard. I do not know which words will make the point, turn on the mind, cross the bridge to a student’s learning – and so I must choose every action and every word and every deed properly.
Not that I do. I often fail. So I must constantly look at myself and criticize what I find there – finding it in sufficient and in need of improvement. I will find myself never to be the teacher I would like to be. When I have become that, I shall have begun to fail. I am no better than my students – simply more experienced.
I am prone to mistake and apt to make error, and I must always be human.
Yes, they will forget the fact that I teach – much of it – but it makes no difference if I have taught them to use the minds God has given to them. Then I have been successful. And because I am teaching the mind I have an opportunity that cannot be surpassed. I possess the opportunity to help my America by stressing the ideals and bases that have made this country what it is and what we wish it to remain. But I must beware of teaching such beliefs blindly. I must not imitate or merely reflect the beliefs of others. I must draw conclusions, constantly search for answers, and share these to help each of my students arrive at a set of well-defined and well-established ideals.
As a teacher, every day gives me the opportunity of teaching the importance of being one’s self – of being an individual; of teaching the necessity of having goals, a good-enough that is good enough!; of setting standards for one’s self and constantly raising those standards so that they remain just out of reach. Every day gives me the opportunity to teach in terms of concepts, with facts fastened to them in meaningful ways – not merely the accumulation of facts alone. I must teach conceptual thinking so that when the facts have been forgotten a basic understanding persists. Then I have taught and the student has learned. Then – and only then – I have been successful.
Every day gives me the opportunity of teaching the love of learning – the desire to absorb and go ahead for the sheer pleasure of gaining in wisdom and self-esteem. I must help each of my boys and girls – no matter what his esoteric IQ – to have pride in himself, to be able to admire and like himself! I shall teach daily the pleasure of working hard.
And we’ll laugh. Every day it is my responsibility to teach how to laugh, as well as how to be serious. We must look at ourselves, see our foibles, laugh at ourselves, and sometimes go about the repairing of that which we took time out to laugh at. I must arm each of my boys and my girls with a sense of humor to be better prepared to face the world in the years beyond my time with them.
I shall feel daily the desperate need to make every day of my nine months with my class rich and full and valuable, for I have so much to teach, so much I want to impart, and so little time. I shall always feel the necessity for completing the job right here, right now, and yet I must always remember as well that there – is a tomorrow – a good many tomorrows – but no tomorrow is as good as today and now.
As a teacher I have a link to tomorrow and that is a part of what makes my business such an exciting one. Teaching is a link t o the future. In a way it offers immortality, and each of us has the innate desire for that. But I can do it – and in the grandest way imaginable – by the actions, deeds, and beliefs of those who come after me. By teaching in the broadest sense – of ideals and understandings – I have the opportunity of being active in the fate of my country. I can’t determine its destiny, but I am producing men and women who will decide that destiny wisely and well.
And on the other hand I can in part determine that destiny as well, for by teaching what is right and proper – the preservation of our wilderness and the love of our National Parks for example, I am helping to shape the future, too.
As I go about this business of teaching I shall experience a grand variety of adventures. I will meet with the parents of my many students and accept their ideas and ideals, willing to accept their views by knowing that I have much to learn. I will constantly put myself in the place of each one of my youngsters to try and determine his feelings and his outlook. I must constantly be on the alert for new ideas and be willing to accept new approaches and new methods, but I must remember to temper them with the successful approaches I have used in the past. I shall find ideas and plans piling up within me, each new idea begetting another so that I will find myself constantly on the alert for opportunities to use these ideas, to approach a subject in a new and exciting way.
We’ll explore many avenues together – looking for what we do not know, looking for truth in its many forms. I shall constantly remind my class that I am not interested in what they know, but in what they don’t know. The corrections of one’s mistakes will be the one sure road to increased wisdom.
Day by day, as I pursue my unpaved path as a teacher I will experience many thrills. The thrill of seeing a face light up when I have finally used the right words to explain an idea and he says, “Oh, I see now!” The thrill of seeing one of my students arrive at an independent and acceptable decision with a maturing sense of judgment. The thrill of having a youngster return to talk with me some years later and express his increased awareness of his world and his place in it – and saying that I had some part in helping him to see that. The thrill of putting my arms around a small pair of shoulders and trying to impart some small bit of myself ␣ which is exactly what teaching is!
I shall know a curious blend of emotions day by day: despair and elation, frustration and contentment, impatience and realization, sadness and happiness, fulfillment and defeat. I will know the soaring spirit that comes from hearing of one of my students who went on to be honored and acclaimed and I will take a bit of the credit f o r having caused him to succeed. And I will know sorrow when I hear of a youngster of mine who has failed and acted against our society – and I will take a bit of the blame for not having helped him to avoid that deed, that defeat.
The sorrow and frustration, the despair and impatience and defeat will linger only for a while. They will drive me on and make me desire another tomorrow so I may make amends and try again and do better this time – and perhaps succeed. From time to time will come elation and contentment, fulfillment and happiness, which will be most remembered and most cherished and make going on possible and desirable.
I see the future in my classroom and I have the power to make that future brighter and richer in mind and in heart. I am something special. I am something beside which I can stand proud.
I am a teacher!