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Emily Morrison Emily Morrison
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Schooling the minnows

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When I began teaching, my father, my first teacher in all things, said, 'Remember, kids can smell a fake like sharks smell blood in the water.' At the time, I wasn't really sure why he told me this. Why wouldn't I be real with my students, and why did he compare them to sharks?

Ten years of teaching later, I understand him perfectly. This business demands the real teacher to show up every day. The reality of our daily grind is quite startling: Teachers barely have time to avail themselves of the facilities, much less be human while frantically running the halls searching for a working photocopier. But I know now that students aren't vicious. They are not sharks circling for the kill. They're more like fish in a school. They will swim upstream faster than you can blink an eye if they don't feel like you are swimming with them, watching out for their best interests.

The question becomes, how do we let students see the 'real person' behind our profession while maintaining our professionalism? People say, 'Set clear boundaries,' or 'Let the kids know who's boss' as some sort of mantra for new teachers to live by. Ironically, the teachers I am privileged to work with defy this mantra on a daily basis. Don't get me wrong, they have boundaries. But those boundaries extend far beyond the classroom. My colleagues coach sports teams, run the Outing Club, Sailing Club, Make a Difference Team, publish the yearbook and direct drama. My colleagues run the Math Lab after school and volunteer to be class advisors. Why? Because they're passionate about more than their subjects. They're passionate about sharing their passions with kids.

To me, teaching is about revealing your enthusiasm, your dedication to your subject and your students. This is the reason I became a teacher. I remember sitting on my bed somewhere around age 10, reading 'The Velveteen Rabbit' to Harvey J. Pea-pod Denbow, Jr. (my best friend/teddy bear). Though Harvey looked enthralled, I can tell you now, there is no substitute for a live audience. Teachers need living, breathing kids in the seats, just like kids need living, breathing teachers to talk to.

In my life, connectedness is at the heart of my teaching. When I make connections with kids, I show them that I'm a person first. When I think back on my favorite teachers, I realize what they all had in common. They were people first, teachers second. My fourth grade teacher used to eat with me at snack time; he liked my potato chips. My high school math teacher called me up to his desk after one particularly disastrous math class and asked me if I was OK. My English teacher hugged me after our three years together, and she told me I was talented. Those small, random acts of kindness meant the world to me, and they still do.

The imprint their kindness left on me compels me to be the kind of teacher that pays it forward. This means staying vulnerable. It means opening up the lines of communication and not taking it personally if someone doesn't respond. It means diving into shark-infested waters and remembering the minnows I'm schooling. Good teaching allows for both educator and student to bring their minds and hearts to the classroom every day. The lessons we learn aren't found in the boundaries we set, but the ones we don't.


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