Rights, Responsibilities, and Teaching

Always Prepped, (@alwaysprepped), an awesome ed tech site, recently tweeted this question to followers “Why do you teach?”  This is my response.

I can tell you that I did not become a high school English teacher because I love children. I do love children, but that’s not the reason why I do it. Nonetheless, it’s a solid reason, and I’m very glad some teachers have it—children, particularly teens, need to feel that love. Nor did I become a teacher because I love my subject. I do love reading and writing, but that’s not it either.

Maybe the question is too poignant in light of the tragedy in Newtown because I keep returning to thoughts of responsibilities and rights.

I teach because I feel that it is my duty to help people, particularly young people, become aware of unrealized potential, to share a perhaps previously unconsidered perspective with them, and to let them know that they are accepted (tattoos, piercings, zits, silliness, weirdness, and all). 

Sometimes, it seems like a one-way street, though, this teaching gig.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m shouting into an abyss (not unlike blogging, really). That’s why I try to make sure that whatever I’m shouting is worthy because it might just “stick”.

For example, Einstein reminds us that “We must realize that we cannot simultaneously plan for war and peace.” 

That’s a discussion worth having with the next generation of leaders. It’s also an analogy worth dissecting. 

Planning for war seems to be something our country does well. Can we even plan for peace? How? Why? What does it look like?  What do our rights have to do with peace and war? Are our rights inherent or bestowed? Who decides? Why? Where do they end and begin? We have the right to go to war, but what is our responsibility for doing so? What is the criteria? Why? If it is our right to have peace, then what is our responsibility for doing so?

Where does a 'right' end and a 'responsibility' begin?  

It was Mrs. Lanza’s right to own a gun and her responsibility to use it wisely and teach her son how to use it wisely. In that, it can be said that she met her legal and ethical responsibilities, her end of the deal. She taught well. Adam, her student, tragically, did not do the same.

But what was she planning for? 

I teach because I want to hear my students' answers and thoughts.

 Reference: Albert Einstein in an interview with Michael Amrine.  Published in Decision magazine and The New York Times Magazine in 1946

Mindy and some of her former students recently published Transparent Teaching of Adolescents, a discussion of effective teaching strategies for high school.