Everyone is a teacher. Everyone.
My mom was my first teacher. She literally was my kindergarten teacher, but she was also my first teacher in life. So was my sister. So were my grandparents. And while they were teaching me, I was teaching them. I was learning how to tie my shoes and count to ten while they were learning what all toddlers already know about the world, that it is full of adventure and wonder.
We never stop being teachers, but most of us have stopped being learners. A poor learner is the worst kind of teacher, I think. Unexamined. Unpassionate. Stubborn.
Even so, no one has the option to choose to not teach. We teach through our actions, through living. We cannot choose to be alive and not live, and if we could, that would be a lesson as well. It’s beautiful. It’s a responsibility.
Whether banker or doctor or mother or chef or taxi driver, we teach those around us.
To narrow those that teach to those that are in the classroom is an easy out. It relieves the rest of us of being responsible for how we respond to our worlds.
In the public education system, teaching has become about planning, preparation, grading, classroom management, scope and sequence, differentiated instruction, data collection, assessment, and paperwork.
Those are the tasks that distract me from the vocation of teaching. Those are the demands of the job that disconnect me from the mandate of being fully human.
To teach, to truly teach, is intrinsically connected to learning. It is to be “with” your students.
I am the best teacher when I forget about outcomes and test scores and objectives.
I am my best when i learn with them. Do with them. Be with them.
That is when earth is aligning with heaven. That is renewal.
In those moments, neither of us walk away unchanged.
I remembered this so clearly on Monday. We were waiting for the truck to pick us up after school. Life in the bateye was relatively quiet, with the exception of a few kids playing with a tire.
Then the water truck came and all of that changed. The water truck comes once a day to supply the bateye with water. It’s been two weeks since the water filter broke, so the truck carries gallons of water and infinite joy to the people of the bateye.
The entire bateye stormed the truck with buckets and containers, with anything that would hold water for the 24 hours until the next delivery.
I’ve read about the water crises in the world. Ive read about kids carrying Jerry cans for miles. I’ve read about sickness and diseases and death. I’ve supported programs that support clean water in developing countries.
I wouldn’t consider myself uneducated about the topic.
But then a little boy walked past me, a container in each hand, and paused to wipe the sweat from his face before continuing to take the liquid gold home.
I could feel my heart in my throat.
Reading about something is very different than watching it happen in front of you.
Then a woman walked by, pausing at the same spot. I went to her and grabbed one of the containers before she could pick it back up. She tried to stop me, but I can be a tad stubborn. Just a tad.
It took every ounce of energy that i had to follow her home with one five gallon bucket. One bucket for one half of one trip and I was done. It was heavier than I ever could have imagined.
All that I’ve read, all that I’ve seen, and all that I’ve supported could not have taught me what I learned in 300 hundred yards with a bucket in my hand.
Watching something happen before you is very different than participating in the process.
I walked with her, even for a brief moment, and was changed.
She might have felt that I was serving her. I was. That’s why I wanted to walk with her.
But the process, the “with”, of serving her, actually served me.
And that takes me back to my classroom, where I am an actual teacher that has to care about the trivial tasks of the system. It reminds me to not disconnect myself from the desks and chairs that my students sit in everyday, that we might learn together. It pulls my eyes to meet theirs so that we can look at life together. It calls me to try things that are difficult for me, that I might be more patient when they complain about what comes naturally to me.
It reminds me to be with them, because that process serves them and serves me. And then we, together, will be equipped to serve with the world.
Three-hundred yards with five gallons.
Always learning. Always teaching.