While the purpose of starting this blog was to explore my thoughts and opinions on education, it felt appropriate to begin by telling of the catalyst that set my course for a career in education.
I was 16, and I didn’t have much of a set path in life. My one major interest was music, however, I had recognized at that point that being a musician was not the most reliable career, especially for someone interested in obscure genres of metal. So, like most kids at that age, I didn’t quite have a career path set out before me, but that was soon to change, as I enrolled in AP European History (or AP Euro) for my Sophomore year.
The year prior, my interest in history had begun to bud when I took my world history course, but those experiences would not even compare to what I had in store. It was during the AP Euro course that I developed a passion for the subject of history, but it wasn’t just the curriculum that drew me towards that specialization. I have my teacher to thank for that.
I can safely say that my AP Euro teacher was the greatest educator I’ve ever had, but I also feel that it is important to ask why; why do I consider him to be a successful teacher, capable of influencing me to pursue education? When I ask myself this question, the first thought that comes to mind is how he treated his students. Often times, the experience between a teacher and their students can feel impersonal, as both sides feel like they’re put into roles, where the students are the immature learners and the teacher is the beacon of knowledge meant to lead the class. While this can result in an effective learning environment, it also makes it hard for students to relate to their teachers, since it feels like there is a hierarchy in place, in which the students are set below their teachers.
That is not to say my AP Euro teacher did not lead the class or educate us well – he was a rather effective educator – but part of what made him so relatable was that he brought himself down to our level. It did not feel like we were being coddled or treated like immature children. Rather, he treated us with respect as if we were adults. Whether this was relating to us through stories of when he was our age, allowing us the option to choose our seats, or giving us autonomy when it came to choosing projects, he made it feel like we were all on the same level, which made me respect him greatly.
However, he did not always have a buddy-buddy personality to him. If anyone was misbehaving in class, he did not tolerate it, and successfully enforced classroom rules and any consequences that came about from breaking them. When he did have to take on the role of the strict educator, it was often justified, so it didn’t make him seem tyrannical or malicious. Contrarily, it made me respect him even more.
Part of what I feel makes an effective teacher is knowing the correct ways to balance order and stringency with comfort and relatability, and when a teacher successfully maintains that balance, they gain great respect in the eyes of the student, for they feel that they can identify with the teacher and see them almost like a friend, but also have an understanding that authority lies with the educator. Because he found this balance, my AP Euro teacher worked to establish an effective example that would inspire how I sought to teach.
Though I admired his hospitable yet authoritative methods of leading, it was ultimately the passion for history that I saw in my teacher that inspired me to pursue education. When in his class, it never felt like he was just regurgitating information that came out of a textbook. You could tell he was particularly passionate about the subject by how interesting he made learning history to be. He presented the subject in a way I had never before considered, by seeing it not as a bunch of dates and events to memorize, but as a long, ongoing story, with every aspect of history being interconnected. To such a young mind, this realization was particularly striking to me, as it revealed a new way of thinking about an entire subject. Additionally, he made history a fun experience by inserting humor into his lessons to make them more memorable, as well as presenting unorthodox learning strategies, like viewing the monarchical ascensions surrounding the English civil war as a hamburger (as he called it, the Charles Jr. sandwich).
While some of these methods of learning may seem a bit ridiculous, it was the fact he was able to present these historical lessons in new and exciting ways that made them extremely memorable. Even today, I can still recall the significance of the astronomer Tycho Brahe due to jokes we made in class about his extravagant mustache. I firmly believe that a teacher who is not passionate about their subject could not be able to present history in such a fun and fascinating manner.
Though it is obvious I had an enthusiastic history teacher, how was his eagerness to teach so great that it inspired me to do the same? Well to answer this question, I’d like to turn to my own historical example. The English philosopher John Locke presented his revolutionary ideas on education back in the 17th century, a time when children were seen as miniature adults. However, Locke challenged this concept by asserting the idea of “tabula rasa;” that their minds were blank slates which needed to be formed through education.
With this idea in mind, it is easy to assume that, as blank slates, children are highly impressionable. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that a teacher who is passionate about what they are doing will have a greater impact on the minds of young students than a teacher who isn’t enthusiastic about educating. I have always said that if a teacher shows they are excited to teach, then the students will be excited to learn. So when I was at an age where my mind was highly impressionable, with not much direction in life, I found myself completely enamored by the historical lessons that my AP Euro teacher gifted me with, and his enthusiasm made its impact on my mind, leading me towards a future that would seek to influence students in the same way he influenced me.
If you enjoyed this post, please let me know down below. I’d also be happy to hear about some times when teachers greatly influenced you as well. If you have any questions for me, I’m open to answer those as well. I’m excited to hear what you have to say!