The other evening two good friends shared with me something that was at first funny but quickly began to actually frighten me. Our discussion that followed, rooted in what we had watched, has stayed with me–almost haunting me. As a teacher I have many responsibilities but perhaps the most important one of all is accountability. Accountability to myself, to my profession, but most of all, to my students. Teaching–in every conceivable sense–shapes the lives of students, of people. HOW you shape the life of another individual and WHY you shape the life of another individual is equal to (in my humble opinion) the how and why of a doctor saving an individual’s life.
Ok–you’re calling me melodramatic. Let me throw some names out there then: Charles Manson, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Jim Jones, and Adolph Hitler. You’re saying, “But those are CULT leaders! They were crazy!” Yes, they were. But first and foremost, they were teachers! Maybe not in the conventional sense, but ‘teachers’ nonetheless. Through their teachings each created a following–people who looked to them for guidance, understanding, compassion, mentorship, even love. People who had a need and found their need fulfilled by the words and/or actions of teachers.
I could list so many others–religious figures, politicians, business executives–some would have positive influences on people, others would not. It doesn’t really matter and that is not the point of this post. The point is that as teachers (as ADULTS, as HUMAN BEINGS) we have a responsibility to provide a safe environment where people can grow and to never forget that our students are looking to us for guidance, understanding, compassion, mentorship, and love. Our students savor every word that comes out of our mouths. Our students notice every last detail about us (hey UMMB alums from the early 80’s: if I say “Navy Blue Suit” I have no doubt you will say “Powder Blue Stitching.” Am I right?!).
Starred Thought: The influence a teacher has upon a student is powerful–and they will remember you forever.
Let me make this very personal: People would say that I am a cult leader. Between the UDMB and DMA I have a following of thousands. This scares the living daylights out of me!!! That is NOT what I want nor desire…but when you break it down to brass tacks it sort of is the situation. And again, this scares the living daylights out of me!!!
I prefer to think, hope, whatever, that what I am creating (for lack of a better word at this moment) is a CULTURE. A culture where PEOPLE are given the tools to make decisions for themselves; a culture where PEOPLE are given the tools to grow, to learn, to lead their lives in a way that is honest; a culture where PEOPLE do not blindly follow but learn to lead themselves.
So what brought all this on????
As I said at the start of this meandering post which accomplishes what I am not sure just yet, I watched something that frightened me. It frightened me because it was narcissistic in nature and contained absolutely no substance whatsoever.
Starred Thought: All hype and no substance makes you a fluff-head.
Teachers speak – students listen; students absorb; students apply what they learned. What one says MUST have substantive value! Even the smallest of comments are taken from your mouth and put into action by students. The experiences you create for them will become part of the foundation of their lives. This is scary, scary stuff folks!!! If you spout off rhetoric with no substantive purpose you run the risk of hurting people.
There is a phenomenal quote in the first Jurassic Park movie spoken by the character Ian Malcolm:
Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
The internet affords us the LUXURY of being able to leave a digital footprint for hundreds, if not thousands of others to experience. We can “reach” so many, many people. This is a TOOL…a tool that is taken for granted these days; a tool that is abused by many as well. Just because you have this tool available to you doesn’t mean you should use it! (And the irony is I’m doing just what I said one should not do.)
It was (and still is) never my intention to create a cult. It was (and still is) my intention to create positive learning experiences for my students that they would never have if not for the UDMB, if not for DMA. THAT is creating a culture! Yes, I have a following and yes the reality of that is frightening to me. I hope beyond hope that I always remember just how fragile that following is, just how impressionable they are, just how needy they are. I hope I always remember that:
With great power comes great responsibility.
Teaching is a form of ‘power.’ Teaching requires great responsibility. …always check your ego at the door and remember, you are shaping LIVES!