Reflections on Being an Educator
Being a teacher is an interesting and amazing experience where teachers can learn as much from time in a classroom as their students do. In this post, Chatteris’ own Chris Hoellriegl shares her reflections on being an educator.
Having been teaching, coaching, and mentoring within the most different contexts over the last couple of years, I can definitely say that teaching rocks – in so many ways. Especially, if one is blessed to meet such wonderful individuals as I have. In this article, I want to share two of my reflections as an educator during that time which many – including me – probably are not always fully aware of.
Are teachers teaching knowledge only?
What most do not immediately consider is that the role of an authentic as well as passionate educator must go beyond imparting knowledge only. In fact, if you want it or not, teaching renders you similarly responsible for many other aspects of a student’s development. Several memorable encounters with disadvantaged students made me realise to what great extent this actually applies for deeply ingrained belief systems because educators have both the influence and power to guide and shape students at a crucial stage in their life.
For instance, have you ever thought about the consequences it may potentially cause in the long run if you as a teacher do not feel responsible enough to correct David, a 10-year-old student who regularly voices seemingly innocent but inappropriate comments on women during your activities? Or, if you downplay 12-year-old Jake’s seemingly harmless thought experiments of buying a housewife in Japan as childish? May it not display a certain underlying attitude towards women which could potentially encourage more serious sexist behaviour in the future in other areas if one does not feel responsible enough to halt and correct those ideas at an early age?
Similarly, teachers, when not counteracting initially subtle bullying or aggressive behaviour towards other students, allow some students to consider that as an appropriate form of social interaction which you can get away with easily or later apply in other contexts as well. The deliberate and persistent ignorance of such behaviour by educators at an early age may furthermore invite others to question the trustworthiness and capability of authorities to counteract injustices more generally later or promote a subconscious perception of helplessness.
However, a teacher does not only have the responsibility to prevent the negative. In fact, after working with barely motivated children of low self-confidence, I would even argue that it is way more important to foster positive developments. An educator’s key responsibility is to build up a student’s confidence. Considering the power of self-belief, it is not hard to imagine that a highly intelligent but insecure student such as Sophie could both remain at the bottom of the class or exceed all expectations depending on her teachers’ support. The same applies for cultural awareness. Despite coming from a very conservative and narrow-minded background, a student initially blinded by prejudices such as Tim in India could develop a sense of cultural awareness and open-mindedness which paves the way for a range of rewarding experiences and opportunities to personally grow – given teachers foster those developments.
Without downplaying the impact of other factors, educators such as an English teacher in Hong Kong, an academic tutor at a prestigious university in the US or a sports coach in a sport-for-development initiative in India thus seem to be responsible for far more than just the content they teach.
Are teachers teaching or being taught?
Another thing many are often not directly aware of is that teaching should not only represent a ‘one way’ street where a seemingly experienced and qualified adult educates unknowing or unaware students about a particular matter. In fact, several students I taught, as well as my experiences as a student myself, made me
challenge the perception of the omniscient or, in many academic constellations, seemingly untouchable educator profoundly. Having been taught several fundamental truths about life by poor, barely educated children, I cannot help but line up with the ideas of ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, who
endorses teaching through dialogue rather than preaching. This idea pays attention to the fact that educating at its best must represent a group undertaking where everybody – including the most unqualified, inexperienced or uneducated person – can become a vessel to ‘pr
each’ – though, admittedly, maybe not always the content we would want to be taught about or the way we would want to be approached. Is it not arrogant to assume differently?
For instance, when teaching abroad, a student may introduce their teacher to a new culture in the very same way that the teacher introduces them to a new language. I experienced that first-hand while eating with students in Hong Kong who did not serve single portions for each individual but one big portion for the table to be shared. As I got to know, this reflects the idea of healthy collectivism which is deeply ingrained in Asian culture and, in stark contrast to the idea of western individualism – or the sometimes unhealthy definition which is applied to the original idea of freedom.
Similarly, have you ever considered the valuable lessons an obviously rude teenager in secondary school may be unintentionally capable of teaching you about patience, something as basic as remaining cool when being provoked or, authentic gratitude? Students such as Katie whose stunning Spy-Family sticker collection is able to make their day despite exam season are undeniably more grateful if not ‘superior’ to many adults who continue to complain about matters such as a lukewarm pizza or the weather.
Or, have you ever reflected on what a seemingly unqualified but innocent comment from a university student – and/or your immediate reaction – could teach you about your inherent values when interpreting that comment? It may potentially reveal incorrect underlying perceptions of reality and/or a subconscious attitude towards others which one is potentially not even aware of but which may be very questionable in the first place.
When not considering this, we may (un)intentionally impose a seemingly fixed hierarchy between teachers and students if not become blatantly ‘arrogant’ and deny that sometimes, someone seemingly ‘unqualified’ may have just become our teacher. The only question that remains is whether we are humble enough to be taught and ready to accept, as Socrates already claimed, that the only thing we – even as educators – know for sure is that we know nothing.
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