Teaching is one of the most difficult professions. We struggle to help students of varied abilities and to satisfy administrators, parents, and the general public. We often ignore our own personal and spiritual growth while coping with unrelenting demands on our energy and time.
Whitey Hitchcock has documented his personal journey in Soul of a Teacher, from the college lecture hall to the high school classroom. His reflections are interspersed with student letters, giving his treatise a broad perspective. The second chapter, “Books,” discusses a topic near and dear to my heart – one can never read enough books. Books provide us with new perspectives and help us reconsider old ones. The other chapters, ranging from “Touching Souls” to “Cadavers and Carcasses” to “Myths and Reality,” add insight into his views on teaching. I can imagine the author saying, “Just because I have always done it this way is not an excuse for complacency.” Old dogs and all educators can learn new tricks!
What were the “take-home lessons” from Soul of a Teacher? First, roadblocks should not impede personal growth; find ways to go over or around them. Do not give up, and be creative. Secondly, respect your students and foster their learning: be creative in your approaches and challenge yourself and your students. Allow students and yourself time for exploration and analyses. Set your expectations high, both for your students and for yourself. Third, learn from your mistakes and take these missteps in stride. Next, there is a balance between stimulation and growth; too much stimulation does not allow adequate time for reflection. Critical thinking and creativity are not separate skills but are part of the whole learning experience. Finally, be a committed educator – be the teacher who says “I am all in,” and live up to that promise. A great teacher learns his or her limits and capabilities after taking that pledge. Yes, teaching can make us fearful, but we grow – professionally, personally, or spiritually – if we face that fear with great confidence.
I urge you to read Soul of a Teacher and share it with your fellow educators. It is an uplifting, soul-searching, and heroic tale that will inspire readers to be – or become – great teachers and lifelong travelers.