For me, this is one of the most fundamental parts of teaching. We have all had teachers that inspired us to achieve more than we ever thought possible. More oft than not, we knew that these teachers genuinely liked us. These were the teachers that seemed to not only live and breathe their content, but also loved and cared about us the most. This is the type of teacher I believe Mr. Highet is describing, and the type of teachers we at JHCA aspire to be.
As a teacher I try to meet students where they are and let them know that I like them and care for them. This doesn’t mean that I like everything they choose to do, but it does mean they know that I see them for who they are, and, that I actually like what I see. It also means that I find joy and energy in being in the midst of their wonder and curiosity. As Highet states, “It is essential to enjoy the conditions of teaching, to feel at home in a room containing twenty or thirty healthy young people, and to make our enjoyment of this group-feeling give us energy for our teaching.”
Even though we may not like all of the things our students do, all good teachers sincerely like their students. We recognize that students are young and excited to learn. Our students will inevitably do things that need to be corrected, but when we recognize that “they are trying to be energetic and wise and kind” we see them for who they are and not simply for what they do.
As we build habits and instill a love of learning in our students, we must always be mindful of their youthful energy. Although shouting is in no way acceptable classroom behavior, there is something invigorating about a student that erupts in elation when she eagerly tells you she’s found a gastropod on the underside of an overturned rock, or when another tells you quite passionately that he might have Equisetum fluviatile (River Horsetail) growing in the pond in his backyard. There is nothing as rewarding, either, as having students gather around the table for their first look and feel of a dissection. Highet references this energy when he states, “Such a man is borne upwards and swept onwards by energy which flows into him from the outside, from the group of which he is the heart and the voice.”
To Highet, there is also a balance that we hope to attain. He affirms, “You must be the leader of a group—something higher than the actor with his audience, something lower than the priest with his congregation, something kindlier than the officer with his unit.” As a teacher, it is important to embrace – and not to fight –the energy of our students, but we must direct their energy toward what is true, good, and beautiful. And what’s more, we must match and even surpass their enthusiasm as we share the things we not only find fascinating but essential to their growth as students.
We teachers are the leaders in the classroom, but much of our inspiration is derived from the very students we hope to inspire. Some might find the constant questioning, wild antics, and unbridled excitement of the young tiresome, but the good teacher does not. Good teachers do not only like their students, but thrive on their energy and enthusiasm. Highet states it best when he says, “The good teacher feels that same flow of energy, constantly supplied by the young. If he can canalize it, he will never be tired. At least, not while he is teaching.”