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 9 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 9 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 9 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.  


The latest from america

As I look back upon my lifem can I identify things that I would now do differently?
Terrance KleinAugust 16, 2018
I have found myself for the first time truly afraid of what it means to ask and to allow my children to be part of the church.
Kerry WeberAugust 15, 2018
Cardinal William H. Keeler in May 2009. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) 
A Pennsylvania report accuses Keeler of covering up sexual abuse allegations while serving as bishop of Harrisburg.
Associated PressAugust 15, 2018
With her appeal to emotion, Gadsby reminds audiences to see the vulnerable, resilient human being behind the humiliated stand-up comic.
Allyson EscobarAugust 15, 2018