I am a Teacher

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Expanding on the words of my own Jr. High School teacher, Jack W. Schlatter

by Mr. Schlatter's student turned teacher, Alan Emrich

I am a teacher. My job was created the first moment that a question leaped from the mouth of a curious child. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher because I saw firsthand what a special career it was from the great teachers I've had. I owe so much to Jack Schaltter, Karen Miller, Bob Wilkoff, and the immortal Dr. David Hood. They're not famous to you, but they made a difference in this world by teaching me so much about it... and myself.
 
There is a Latin proverb that states: "he who teaches learns" (qui docet discit).
 
Because I am a teacher, I have learned the following:
 
I have learned the true nobility of this profession and that I am the most fortunate of all who labor.
 
I have learned to be many people in many places.

I am Emperor Charlemagne championing the principles of public education.

I am Socrates exciting the youth of Athens to discover new ideas by asking them probing questions.

I am Herodotus, Aesop, and Hans Christian Andersen revealing truth through countless stories.

I am Anne Sullivan tapping out the secrets of the universe into the outstretched hand of Helen Keller.

The names of those who have practiced my profession ring out as a Hall of Fame for humanity, and I have learned that it is my task to carry on their traditions: Buddha, Confucius, Sun Tzu, Moses, Aristotle, Plato, Jesus, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Adams, Samuel Johnson, Nietzsche, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Woodrow Wilson.

I am also those whose names are not known or have been forgotten but whose lessons and character will always be remembered in the accomplishments of their students.

And I am a warrior, daily combating against peer pressure, negativity, fear, conformity, prejudice, ignorance, and apathy. But I can call upon my great allies: intelligence, curiosity, parental support, individuality, creativity, faith, love, and laughter ― and they will rush to my banners with indomitable support. That if I can succeed in giving the love of learning, the learning itself is sure to follow.

Throughout the course of a day I am called upon to be an actor, friend, doctor, coach, finder of lost articles, money lender, psychologist, salesman, politician, keeper of the faith, and always to stand before my students in loco parentis. I have learned that these are humbling responsibilities.

More humbling still is the thought of making a mistake as a teacher. I have learned that a lawyer's mistakes go to jail, a doctor's mistakes go to the morgue, but a teacher's mistakes are turned loose on society with potentially devastating consequences for all. So I have learned that never doing anything less than my best is something I must not only teach, but live.

It's true that a doctor is allowed to usher life into the world in a single magic moment. But I have learned that a teacher is allowed to see that life get reborn each day with new questions, ideas, and friendships; that education is the soul of a society as it passes from one generation as is reborn in the next.

It's true that an architect knows that if he plans and builds with care, his structure my stand for centuries. But I have learned that if a teacher builds with love and truth, what he builds will last forever that a teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

I have learned that, while material wealth is not one of my life's goals, I am a full-time treasure seeker in my quest for new opportunities for my students to use their God-given talents, and in my constant search to discover their talents that sometimes lie buried in the doubts of self-defeat.

I have learned that a teacher always teaches what he or she most needed to learn. That our own life's lessons are the ones we are keenest to impart, and that these lessons we are certain to provide with utmost clarity as we speak from the wisdom gained by personal experience.

I have learned that despite the charts, diagrams, tables, formulas, labs, stories, and readings, I really have nothing to teach. I have learned that the only thing a teacher can give a student is what that student already possesses. In other words, my students really have only themselves to discover and I have learned that it takes the whole world to tell you who you are. And I have learned, and teach therefore, that the unexamined life is not worth living.

Thus I have learned that students have more need of models than of critics. That a great teacher never strives to explain his vision, but simply invites others to stand beside him and see it for themselves. This is because education, to be successful, must not only inform but inspire.

Quite simply, I have learned that education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire; not what is poured into a student that counts, but what is planted and then grows because education is what survives when the lesson has been forgotten. I have learned that being a teacher comes with it the responsibility for not only sending students away with as much knowledge and skill as it is within my power to help them discover, but more importantly to send them away with the ability and inclination to use those skills to help themselves and others. Even better than good fences, I have learned, good citizens make good neighbors.

I have learned that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, and I impart the former to help students in their life's acquisition of the latter; wisdom is the one treasure that no thief can touch. This means, I have learned, that there are times when it is best not to help a student ― if I believe that student can overcome their struggle and gain wisdom in the process, I'm doing them no favor in shielding them from it.

Tragically, I have learned that I can't save every student no matter how much I want to (and this was a heart-breaking lesson). The old joke is a truism of life: How many psychiatrists does it take to screw in a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change. Similarly, I can only teach a student who wants to learn; some students drink at the fountain of knowledge while others merely gargle.

I have learned that I am a paradox. That I speak loudest when I listen the most. That the job description of a good teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary. And that my greatest gifts are found in what I am willing to appreciatively receive from my students. That for being a teacher, I am no less a student.

I have learned to honor those who study politics and war so that others may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.

I have learned that it is my constant task to take a room full of live wires and see to it that they are grounded. That a teacher's day is one-half bureaucracy, one-half crisis management, one-half lesson plan, and one-eightieth epiphany (never mind the arithmetic). And that many a true word is spoken in guess.

And I have learned that I have a past rich in memories, and a present that remains an exciting, challenging adventure, filled with joy and fun because I am allowed to spend my days with our future.

And who do I have to thank for this wonderful life that I am so blessed to live? My teachers, of course, and you, the public, the parents. For you have done me the great honor of entrusting to me your immortal contribution to eternity, your children's education.

I am a teacher, and I do thank God for it every day.

Alan Emrich currently a faculty member teaching Survey of the Game Industry, Game Design, Game Prototyping, and Project Management at The Art Institute of California, Orange County and has also taught extension courses in Game Design at the University of California at Irvine and Stanford University. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and a California Teaching Credential from the California State University at Long Beach in 1983 and has earned a Masters Degree in Education. One day, he hopes to be a history teacher so old he can teach it from memory. If you want to know what his students think about him, look here.