What I’ve Learned After Four Years of Teaching – Part II

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My 11th grade law teacher is more memorable for his embodiment of teaching than any knowledge he actually conveyed to me. His presence, as a minority man of intellectual firmness, showed us young, minority males that we could be ourselves and still be taken seriously. His ways made me believe that you could cling to your identity while simultaneously yearning for an education. I think he was from Trinidad. He had a ponytail and talked to us students the way he probably talked to his friends on a Friday night after a few beers. He was fearless and he knew that working in an inner city afforded him the comfort of being himself and preaching the “real shit” that needed to be spoken to kids that were destined for a hard life of scrutiny and surveillance. He had been there before. He never said that to us, but we could feel it.

So with these two men, and my first year teaching partner, I surmised an idea of what teaching is all about. And that is compassion, authenticity and a truthful acknowledgement of why you are there.

In my first few years, I witnessed many capable teachers. I saw many adults showing students how to write paragraphs properly, how to conduct scientific experiments in an engaging and academic fashion, and many adults who did a fanstastic job of teaching kids how to solve complex math problems. But I rarely saw teachers that students gravitated towards. These few teachers, that I previously shouted out, are the rare exception and they had a gift precisely because they went against the grain. In my opinion, it takes unbridled recognition “to know yourself” and to be able to exude this onto a set of children. I wish to emulate these people. Actually, if it were not for these people, I would have no passion for teaching.

I am confident that there are many teachers out there who possess this gift. The trouble seems that many teachers are afraid to unbottle this. My call is for teachers to unbottle their true selves while in the classroom. The teachers that step through their classroom doors with this will and determination are the ones that students remember forever. They are the teachers that students learn from the most.

How to do this.

It is so simple. Be you, you have your credentials. In this society, credentials get you to where you need to be. You also have passion. And passion takes you to the next echelon of “master teaching”. These teachers, probably not advised, have decided to take it upon themselves to engage in this practice. It is a dangerous practice because, as adults, we all have our experiences, our faults, and our discretions. But we also have the uncanny ability to talk to our students in a way that we would talk to our sons and daughters. And I think that is it. These teachers are so gravitating and so mesmerizing because they took their job as a true “calling” in the unadulterated sense of the word. They spoke, taught, and listened to students as if they were their own children. They taught and “advised” students the same way they would their daughters, sons, nieces, or nephews. These are the teachers we should use to teach apprentices how to teach. If we find these teachers, we unlock the magic of unbridled passion and confidence and we guide the light to our future. Our test scores will rise, but most importantly, our confidence in a generation will grow.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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