Sunday, November 21, 2010

What Makes a Passionate Educator?

With the overemphasis on testing and scripted curriculums, passion-driven education is starting to lose a foothold and responsible educators and citizens have a responsibility to keep that from happening. Angela Maiers has a series running on her blog profiling guest posts from a diverse group of educators who are passionate about learning. I encourage you to check out the other authors who have posted in this series. Below is mine; (soon to be) cross-posted on Angela's blog.

Often when I'm frustrated with education, either globally or within my own classroom, others remind me of the reason for my frustration. "It's because I'm a passionate educator," they say. Comments like that leave me wondering what that means, and why aren't all teachers passionate about what they do? I can't answer the second question, but I have a pretty good idea on the first one. What makes a passionate educator?

In my opinion, a passionate educator:
  • Takes the time to get to know each student; even if it means not sticking to a pacing chart or meeting other arbitrary deadlines. After all, individual and informal conversations are rarely built into the curriculum.
  • Gives her students a forum for self-expression and a wider audience.
  • Recognizes and responds when the curriculum needs to be adapted; even without an IEP, EP or 504 plan.
  • Stands her ground even when there's nobody else to stand there with her (or so she thinks).
  • Is not afraid to push back against the Big Dogs.
  • Knows (or at least makes an effort to recognize) which battles to choose with parents, administrators and peers.
  • Devotes time, energy and (sometimes even) money to personal and professional growth. Aside from attending conferences, there's plenty of free venues for professional growth. 
  • Shares openly and engages in conversations with a diverse group, near and far.
  • Is not afraid to expose herself and share shortcomings.
  • Is not threatened by other's achievements, but encourages and supports them.
  • Pushes herself out of her comfort zone to learn and use innovative tools.
  • Knows that taking time to herself is just as important as doing for others.
What do you think? What have I left out? (And, can you help me answer the first question: Why aren't more teachers passionate about what they do?)


Deb Truskey said...

I am a speech and language therapist who has had the great privilege of working within the schools for over 25 years.I have seen some amazing teachers. Without even being in their classrooms I can tell who the better teachers are by the way the kids from their classrooms conduct themselves throughout the schools. They know that their class is special because their teacher has told them so time & time again. Your first point about forming a relationship with each and every student is critical.

Rich said...

Great list Lee and I agree with each point you have made about being a passionate educator. I would add this additional comment. Over the years, I have served with many outstanding teachers but the passionate educators offers unconditional love to their students. They also find a child’s strengths and focus on what that child can do especially while making connections and building a close, trusting relationship.

The second question is difficult to answer and maybe it varies from individual to individual. Making a board statement, I would suggest that being passionate usually means a person is content with who they are. They feel and act alive and enjoy most everything that comes their way. This may be why so many educators lack passion.

Tierra Dinkins said...

My name is Tierra Dinkins and I am a secondary education student at the Univeraity of South AL in Mobile, AL. I am currently taking Dr. Strange's EDM310 class and was assigned your blog to comment on.
I am glad I was assigned your bog because your first post I was able to read was about being a passionate teacher. It is hard to wantbto be a passionate teacher with the way school systems are today. However, I do not let that kill my passion for teaching. I think it is important for a teacher to show passion in and out side of the classroom. When students see their teacher is passionate they begin to be motivated. I just hope that my passion remains the same or even grows once I am in the classroom with students of my own.

Unknown said...

I always enjoy reading your posts, Lee, but I have to admit that this one made me a bit uncomfortable. And, yes, I can almost hear you saying, "That's a good thing."

Lately I've been questioning whether or not I truly am a "passionate educator." I'm already starting to feel burnt out, and it's only my fifth year of teaching. But I checked off all of the points in your list that apply to me still, and it would seem that I am a passionate educator. At least "on paper" anyway.

But what does that mean for me? If I have my doubts now, where will I be next year? No longer passionate? Just an educator? Or will I regain some of that passion as I feel more comfortable in my career? Can an educator learn...or be passionate? Nature vs. nurture?

I know. I'm probably not making any sense. I have all these doubts, all these questions, rumbling through my brain all the time.

I love my seventh graders, crazy little goofballs that they are. But I often think that they deserve better in a teacher. They deserve someone who knows how to teach. Someone who can help them learn what they need to learn. And, to be realistic for a moment, someone who can help them pass that test.

Is "passionate" enough?

Mary said...

Reply to McTeach,
I am writing as a parent, but I want to say that, of course, each students deserves to have a teacher that know how to teach, will help them learn what they need to learn and to help them pass tests.
HOWEVER,if I had a choice between that teacher for my child and one that was able to show unconditional love and acceptance. I would choose the later. Every time.

Mary said...

And I guess you can tell by the typos in my post :)
I meant "the latter"

Dumpster Rental said...

This was really a very interesting topic.. Students learn better when they know the teacher cares about them. One saying came to mind while I was reading this post that "Students don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care." A passionate educator is someone who is in love with the field of knowledge, deeply stirred by issues and ideas that challenge our world.

DocHorseTales said...

Thank you for reminding us of this question—reminds me of the ritual elders who know to ask “are we going the right way?” Passion offers guidance, but it encompasses suffering as well as excitement and may not always be immediately the platform for leading others. I believe it is the basis for finding the place to build the character, knowledge, skills, and compassion to lead.
Many persons are so hungry for the fervor of passion that they are susceptible to following someone with the exterior signs of it. A person may also attempt to lead others prematurely. As repeatedly demonstrated by tragedies associated with charismatic cult leaders as well as by wasteful trendy educational “solutions,” this is dangerous and/or a distraction to progress. A person who has not yet gone deeply enough with passion to develop wisdom and care may not be able to offer safe passage for others.
The true leader I respect wants others to follow their inner truth more than he/she wants the ego boost of having followers, or worse yet, worshippers.
I wonder, then, if passion comes before educating. As suggested by McTeach, a person’s passion may lead away from educating. An educator whose passion is elsewhere, may be in the wrong profession; and a person whose passion has not been pursued deeply enough to offer safe practice may not be the best teacher.
I take seriously the direction given by Joseph Campbell and others to “follow your bliss.” That path seemed to lead me away from teaching to story and horses, and it brought me back with a joy for learning and with more respect for inner truth.