You were a teacher . . . . That’s the highest calling for a human being. Not conventional success, not financial success, but to be the example that keeps us from despair, cynicism, detachment, and the other poisons bred in the bowels of our complex lives.” —Barry Lopez: “A Letter to the Late Brian Doyle”
Teaching, as Barry Lopez notes in his loving tribute to Brian Doyle, escapes conventional standards of success. Teachers are not heroes who risk their lives (well, perhaps some do), but instead are the guides who help shape lives. They cannot expect piles of material riches from their vocation; their compensation is the contribution they make to the ongoing drama of humanity, helping to prepare new generations to meet the challenges of this complex world. Perhaps more importantly, in Lopez’s view great teachers can be a shield from cynicism and despair.
Ultimately, great teaching is less about what is being taught and more about the impact it has on learners. If student lives are not changed in their learning, what is the point of education? The best teachers help learners to find, in the words of Christian theologian Frederick Buechner, “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
We cannot pretend to know what anyone’s deep gladness will look like, nor can we determine which of the world’s many deep hungers a student should meet. But we can help them along the way toward finding their own place in the world. And that may be the most a teacher can hope for. For many of us, that is enough.
[Daily post 045 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨