Breaking the Boundaries of Traditional Teacher Roles (by Guest Blogger Marina Safonov)

When I was in high school, I didn’t care too much about the impact my teachers had on my education, much less the impact they would have on my life. Their roles were simply to be guiding hands through my academic career, pushing me to finish homework, emphasizing deadlines and timeliness, that sort of thing. But teachers have the potential to be much more than that: they can be mentors, counselors, friends, and even role models. On the other end of the spectrum, a teacher with a poor attitude or worth ethic can bring about disastrous consequences in a child’s life, which is why it’s important to take care when choosing a career with the ability to have such a profound affect on others.
I have had both negative and positive experiences in regards to teaching, particularly in high school, but I want to focus on the latter. My 10th grade science teacher is one such example. He somehow managed to flawlessly consolidate learning with the challenges of real-life. What I mean by this is that after any given lesson, the class ended up feeling like they knew more about the world itself, and not just fundamental science formulas and problems. We created experiments, brought them outside, and used the world around us as a template; we participated in group activities and got to know each others’ opinions before jumping to conclusions; we listened to his stories and shared our own; these life lessons and social skills are vital outside of the classroom environment, and as a teacher, as a human, he did a superb job in throwing away the shell of someone who was purely an transmitter of knowledge.
I wish more of us, teachers and students alike, would realize that the boundaries between school and our personal lives are not only easy to break, but need to be broken. How have teachers in your past helped you through difficult obstacles in life?–or how have they broken the barrier between academic vs life coaching?
Thank you for reading,
Marina
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7 thoughts on “Breaking the Boundaries of Traditional Teacher Roles (by Guest Blogger Marina Safonov)

  1. Marina,

    Thank you for your heartfelt post. It really reminds me of the time I first came to the America. I was in 6th grade but my English skill was terrible: I couldn’t speak the language, I couldn’t understand what my classmates and teachers were saying, and of course, not even bother to mention about writing in the English. As it turned out, I had a tough time starting out, but fortunately, I had a Language Arts teacher who was so caring and kind to me besides my ESL teacher. She would sit with me in another table, giving me a personal lesson of English, after she was done teaching and had the assignments out for the class. In fact, she was not required to do so by our school policy, but I could tell how much she loved about teaching and caring for those who were less academic capable. I sincerely want to say thank you to this wonderful teacher. Thank you so much for your empathy and being so considerate to me! Lots of good memory flows back, and time flies by!

  2. Marina,
    Thank you for your story. My story of a teacher who helped me is probably a bit different than most. As you can probably tell, I am a returning student. I had gone to college right out of high school but dropped out after a couple years for various reasons, one being a lack of confidence in myself. When I returned to school years later, I was determined to succeed but still didn’t quite believe that I could. In my first year back at PCC I enrolled in a Biology class and I couldn’t have had a better professor. She gave me confidence in my abilities and treated me with respect, something I don’t remember getting a lot of from my teachers in high school. If it weren’t for her, I don’t know if I would be where I am today, ready to graduate and applying to grad school.
    For a person of any age, having someone believe in you is incredibly important. One of the best things we can do for the children and young adults we are mentoring is to help them have pride in themselves. It’s a lot harder to let yourself down when you like who you are.

  3. Hey Marina,
    I agree, teachers can have a positive impact given the chance. I was a C or worse students all through high school, because none of the classes really interested me. In 10th grade I took chemistry with Mr. deSantis. I enjoyed chemistry, and did well in the class. At the end of the term, however, I found that I had an 89 average, and that he had given me a B. I went to his office to talk to him and see if there was any way to up the grade. He could have been nice and given me an extra credit problem to push my grade over 90 percent to get the A. But instead he told me to apply myself next term and earn the grade. I was angry by the grade but when I got an A the following term (my first in high school I believe) it was that much more satisfying. Too many students expect their teachers to give grades, Mr. deSantis taught me to earn my grades, which I think is a more important life lesson than an easy A in chemistry.
    Chris

  4. Marina,
    Great post! I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of good and bad teachers since I started volunteering at PYB. The teachers there are so dedicated, and most of the students have stories about one or two teachers that made them feel so awful when they were in mainstream schools that they didn’t want to go back. I think from my personal experience seeing how my teachers in school treated me and other students, the trouble comes from teachers labeling a student as either good or bad. A dedicated student or a troublemaker. The reality, of course, is that student personalities exist on a more complex spectrum. Some kids are disruptive because they can’t help being hyperactive and have a hard time paying attention. Some lash out and are surly because they are facing things that other students couldn’t imagine in their personal lives. I had some teachers in high school that seemed really bitter towards their students. They took one look at us and you could feel their frustration. I’m sure that this came from years of being disrespected and working for little pay or prestige. I think it’s awful that some schools have a sort of unofficial tenure system, where a teacher who has been there for years won’t be fired unless under an extreme circumstance. If teaching performance drops and the teachers aren’t connecting with the students, they should be warned and possibly terminated. There are so many talented, bright and warm people going into teaching, students shouldn’t have to be scarred by apathetic or judgmental teachers.

    • Those are some excellent points, I agree. I think one of the best traits for a teacher is the ability to be flexible. Students don’t all learn the same way, nor have the same interests. Disruptive or unmotivated students need to be engaged in a different way. One of my professors likes to tell us a story about her son, who was completely unmotivated about learning how to read. He did, however, really want to learn how to build model rockets. The professor had no interest in reading the technical manuals of building a model rocket, so if the son wanted to build them, he had to learn to read them himself. Which he did. He learned to read because someone was able to find something that motivated him and made him want to learn. An apathetic or judgmental teacher might of just given him a label and not done anything further, when all he needed was the motivation.

  5. Marina, you make a very good point about how important it is to be able to relate lessons in school to real life experiences. I remember that being one of my biggest complaints during my own public school experience: how are we actually going to use whatever boring lesson we are being taught. Knowing its real life application and importance definitely made learning easier and more interesting. That’s great you had a teacher that understood the importance of this and was able to embrace it.

    One of my favorite teachers was my high school Psychology teacher Mr. Caro. He had this skill as well, and while he was teaching us interesting new things about psychology and human minds, it was all things that we could see their real life application in some way. I remember this class and what I learned in it the most out of any of my high school classes because I was able to make these associations with the material. Mr. Caro was also friendly and approachable, and spoke to us in a way that made his students feel like equals while still commanding authority. Basically, if you treated him with respect he did the same for you, without being a push over.

  6. Marina,

    Excellent post and I definitely agree with you. Teachers have such an impact on our lives, whether we realize it or not. When I ever I get back with friends from high school we always turn the conversation towards the teachers that angered us and the teachers that made us laugh. I can point to one teacher in particularly who kept my sane in high school. He was my AP US History teacher and he was a very funny and warm hearted guy. I am still friends with him to this day, like many of his students still are.
    On the flip side, I had a science teacher who most of us did not care for. We thought she was mean and unfair and just plain weird. However, towards the end of my sophomore year, we had a giant project to do. This is the time that my father passed away. This teacher took me aside and told me that I didn’t have to finish, she’d grade whatever I had done at that point. It’s things like that make good teachers and good people in general, understanding your students and their situations.

    Eli

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