Teaching to be Taught

With the sound of sleigh bells not far off, I find myself pondering a truth I return to every year: being a great teacher involves being a great student. And I don’t mean being a great student at one point in the past. I mean continuing to be a student into the present, and into the future. I mean waking up ever day happily aware that my knowledge is and always will be an unfinished project.

When I ask, “What will I learn today? What will my students teach me?” the next fifty minutes are completely different than when I do not. The questions displace my ego; they make me less of a supervisor and more of a participant. I am more like the guide on an exploration and less like a flight attendant issuing safety instructions. The questions help me cherish the richness of what my students bring to class – their mix of questions and concerns, and even their struggles and irritations. Yes: even gasps of frustration contain the seeds of an epiphany. 


Remembering my dual role saves me from thinking that I alone bear insight, that I alone deserve attention. When I think of teaching as an exchange, I listen better. I relax more. I welcome the surprises of the Holy Spirit and the nudges to drop the net of my agenda. To teach with the spirit of a student inspires me to teach with the attitude of vocation, with readiness for a call. Teaching, then, is like discipleship. I humbly hand on what I have received, never forgetting (in the words of Jesus) that "God alone is good."



Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
4 years 6 months ago
“Teaching To Be Taught” inspired me to post the following. My wife taught religion in middle school, one of our son’s teaches music and directs school theatre for middle and high school students. I am a teacher at heart, but mostly an everlasting student, taught experientially by the master professor called “life.” Delete the “te” from “teaching” and one gets the word “aching.” Change the word “taught” to “teach” and we come up with a self-definition – “Aching to Teach.” What will my students teach me? Everything they know, helping me to know better what I think I know. As Matt Emerson says, “I humbly hand on what I have received” There are many ways to do so. Here’s one way I have chosen . As a teacher at heart, I have donated my brain to the Albert Einstein School of Medicine to be used after my death as a teaching tool, beneficial to all, especially to seniors. How satisfying to know that even after I am gone I will continue teaching – my classroom, the world! So happily, I will have handed on what I have received by way of a Five Year Aging Study conducted by the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, focusing also of course, on cognitive and biological contributions freely given. So by the grace of God, a teacher at last, no longer aching to teach, but at one and the same time teacher/student, student/teacher! May the Holy Spirit surprise!
Michael Barberi
4 years 6 months ago
Bruce, Well said. In order to teach one must listen and learn. Life is a journey where we are constantly learning to understand truth. This is accomplished through dialogue. However, when we stop listening and learning, teaching is stifled. When the RCC "closes debate and dialogue" on certain disputed issues such as the ordination of women and contraception, in the name of the absolute moral truth, the Church stops learning.
Matt Emerson
4 years 6 months ago

Mr. Snowden: you mention you are a "teacher at heart," but were you formally or professionally a teacher at one point? I was struck by your observation about "aching to teach." It makes me think of another word I've associated with teaching: a wrestling or a contending... not in a bad way, but in a good way... a fruitful collision of personalities and ideas and concepts and minds that leave both teacher and student stronger, more thoughtful, more inquisitive, and more sensitive to nuance.  


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Voters went to the polls May 25 to decide whether to liberalize the country's abortion laws. (CNS photo/Alex Fraser, Reuters)
The repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn, is passing by a 2-1 margin with most of the votes counted.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018
The coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII is seen during a ceremony in Vittorio Veneto Square after its arrival in Bergamo, Italy, May 24. The body of the late pope left the Vatican on May 24 to be displayed in his home region until June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BERGAMO, Italy (CNS) — Accompanied by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo and escorted by both Italian and Vatican police officers, the glass coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII left the Vatican early on May 24 for a 370-mile drive to Bergamo.