In my sixth grade language class, we take time to talk about “purposeful vocabulary”. To say teaching is “important” is hardly purposeful. No. Teaching is imperative. Crucial. Vital.
We’ve decided, as a culture, to focus on creating “productive and functional members of society”; my district’s mission statement boasts that we will “create world-class citizens” who are capable of anything. We have these glorious ideals of hard physical labor and genius scientists and multi-racial children being not color-blind, no, but aware and appreciative of one another’s differences.
But if those diverse melting-pot kids don’t get educated, how will that ever happen? If we put 25 kids in a classroom that all look and speak and act the same, and no one teaches them anything but ethnocentric behaviors, these cultural expectations become a hysterically malicious joke. If we put students in a classroom and tell them to open a book and copy questions one through fifty– that is not teaching. Maybe it’s important to teach discipline, to teach tolerance of regularity and routine and people that don’t understand or value creative thinking and problem-solving and foreign cultures, but that is not the vital teaching I’m talking about.
Teaching in a public education system is important because it is how we tailor our mini-citizens to become the next rule-makers, the next cancer-curers, the next shocking entertainers. Without teaching everything is unnecessarily experiential, knowledge is isolated and hidden. Why watch kids burn their hands over and over again when we can just teach them that the stove is hot?
This should not be nearly as difficult as it is to elaborate on but here: Teaching isn’t important; teaching is the structure of human civilization. Our school teachers teach us content and maturity and following expectations. Our students teach us patience, tolerance, authenticity and humility. The thing that’s so difficult about this is that teaching is so phenomenally broad, that despite this being hosted on a teaching blog and being responded to by passionate, largely non-traditional teachers, teaching is not all about public education. It’s about gaining knowledge and experience and improving your life and the lives of others. Teaching is important because without it there is no learning, and without those two things there is no new knowledge, no eureka, no progress.
I became an educator because of the experiences my education gave me. Because of the lessons I was taught by my teachers, sure, but more than that the lessons I learned from the universe, from my best friends, from my mother dying. I became an educator because of how much I value teaching and learning. Teaching now, in k-12 grades, is important because it is the foundation for how a human will choose to live his life, and the foundation for how –and if we’re really not doing well if– that person will choose to continue learning, and ultimately apply that learning to the society that we all share.