For the Students’ Personal Growth and Academic Advancement
The ‘secrets of good teaching are the same as the secrets of good living: seeing one’s self without blinking, offering hospitality to the alien other, having compassion for suffering, speaking truth to power, being present and being real.
Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach
Students arrive in their classrooms from myriad backgrounds that have influenced them through their cultures, their experiences, and the relationships they have formed with peers, parents, and other adults. Some may feel eagerness; others, anxiety and uncertainty. Some already possess a love of learning; others desire to attain a respectable grade. Still others, leery of what they may encounter, are bent on mere survival in the world of academics, in a community of learners, in a place where their intellect, critical thinking skills, and creativity will be challenged. They all matter. They all can grow in their approaches to academic challenges, through life’s adverse moments, and in developing respect and empathy.
Students need leaders who can deliver strong instruction and who can guide them as they work towards mastery. They need experiences, opportunities to engage in critical thinking to ask good questions in response to legitimate problems. To respond effectively, they need to know how to access and evaluate resources. They need to know how to express themselves orally and in writing to diverse audiences. They need to use empathy and rhetorical skill in their communications. They need adults who can model the aforementioned strategies and skills, and who can do so with compassion, purpose, and, often, a bit of humor, light-heartedness, and camaraderie.
They also need adults who can pique interests and spark judicious passion. Students learn when they are active, when they are engaged. The adults who lead them should stoke this engagement, both through their enthusiasm for the content and for their enthusiasm for the students’ academic and personal development. Many students have concrete dreams for their futures, and their fires burn overtly as they look to leaders for direction and for opportunities to gather fuel. Other students are as novice spelunkers—in the cave, looking for a light, and perhaps still lacking the essential skills and tools for meaningful exploration. They need encouragement to persist, and, at times, to follow closely behind a torchbearer until they can shine their own lights.
In their torchbearers, their leaders, their guides, their instructors, students should find, above all, genuine people. They can learn from an assortment of personalities and temperaments, but they will not learn from those that remain disengaged from the essential interactions that build relationships. They will learn best from those who accept mistakes and shortcomings and who help them understand the role of each in their growth. They learn from people who confront them with more than what is good and right and wholesome in the world; the students should recognize the nefarious influences in life and how they affect their own choices, as well as the concerns and hopes of people wholly different from themselves. They will not find easy answers, but will come closer to finding themselves and the possibilities that this world and their lives hold.