The Capacity to Respond without Constraint
Mr. McGrath, my 12th grade calculus teacher, used to get annoyed when one of us referred to “plugging” a number into an equation. Without fail, every single time, he would say something like, “We plug wires into walls. We substitute numbers into equations.”
I doubt he would know that every single time over the last 15 years that a student said in my class to plug a number into an equation that I would reflexively want to say the same exact thing to them.
Mr. McGrath had high behavioral and intellectual expectations of us. Despite his face turning red and his body tensing up when there was occasional misbehavior in the class, he really enjoyed teaching. He’d tell us dorky jokes. He’d pick on a few of us in endearing ways. He’d give us stories from his own past as a student. He had drawings around his room from a former student, art inspired by Mr. McGrath’s stories of mathematicians and their work.
Whether teachers realize it or not, we are models for our students. In adolescence particularly, and whether consciously or unconsciously, students are absorbing the demeanor, the outlook, the approach, the mentality, the vision, the commitment, and the passion of their teachers in one way or another. Adolescence is the fertile ground of influence and choice that in so many ways impacts who we become.
There’s an immense opportunity to positively impact the lives of our students by modeling the being of adult. We can model it by demonstrating the full capacity of adults to be agents in our own lives. By demonstrating thoughtfulness, creativity, compassion, enjoyment, engagement, and satisfaction. By demonstrating honesty, courage, understanding, and collaboration. By demonstrating ease, love, and passion.
Every teacher wants their students to feel free to explore their own self-expression, their own passions, and their own interests. I suspect that if we all knew it to be possible, we’d also want our students free to develop their own innate capacity to be agents in their lives regardless of their present circumstances, their memories of the past, or their anticipated future.
Free to respond to any experience in life, unconstrained by their own thoughts or the thoughts of others, unconstrained by their own past experiences or the past experiences of others. Free to be responsible.
Responsibility: the capacity to creatively respond without internal constraint.
I love teaching and the experience of working with adolescents, and I thrive on the honest and authentic relationships that can form in the classroom. I’m grateful to Mr. McGrath for modeling for me what it could look like to enjoy teaching and hold students to high standards.
It was in Mr. McGrath’s class that I distinctly remember sitting near the back of the room and saying to myself, “Huh, I kinda want to be a teacher.”
Thanks so much for reading ♥️.
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