The Past is Prologue: The role of “self” in the classroom

“The teacher is the curriculum.”

My mom said that to me years ago, back when I told her about my decision to be a music teacher. The statement is not all-encompassing, of course. Traditional curricular design is very important, but my mom’s statement addresses a vital aspect of being a good teacher: The messenger deserves as much attention as the message.

The video below is just a quick run-through of some slides I use when introducing myself to my undergraduate music education students. This was recorded in one take – my ramblings reflect my true feelings. When you’re done, I’ve included some written reflections (again, ramblings is probably more accurate) on the value of introspection on being a good teacher.

Lastly, if you’re looking for more on some of the ideas that I discuss in this post, perhaps you should check out the interview I did with author and choral conductor James Jordan for our first Leading Notes podcast. Click here for info on how to download it.

For more info about my Aunt Mary and Aunt Sandra, check out this wonderful article about their work with the poorest of Nashville’s youth (well into their 80’s!).

(Remember, I’ve got some ruminations on the value of a video like this… all below the break!)

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The reality is that being a teacher isn’t about playing a part, holding one set of ideals for the classroom and one for the outside world, or pretending to have it “all figured out.” Being a good teacher means looking inward, understanding the self, the good and the bad, and gaining strength and confidence to be you in front of your students. More often than a lot of teachers care to admit, this means acknowledging that you don’t have all of the answers and that you have made mistakes in the past. Students sense when a teacher has dropped pretense and is engaging them as a full person – respecting their experiences and feelings.

It is in these moments of mutual respect and admiration that the classroom becomes a place where learning truly occurs. Yes, a safe and open classroom is the best environment for students to learn whatever academic concepts the teacher has assigned. It is also the place that students learn about themselves, their peers, their teacher, and the most effective and respectful ways to navigate between all of them.

Obviously, I’m not the best person/teacher that I can be… yet. It’s a journey that all of us (hopefully) take throughout our entire lives. I’m sharing these thoughts in the hope that whoever reads this might see how integrated I see “Nick the Teacher” with “Nick the Person”. You should also know that I will continue the process of being better at both throughout my entire teaching career.

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While writing this post, I came across a video about my Aunt Mary and Aunt Sandra and the reading software they developed. I was deeply moved by the strength of these women and their ability to change the lives of these children. If you’re interested in what a phenomenal person/teacher looks like, watch this video. Incredible footage of my Aunt Mary teaching can be seen around the 8 minute mark.

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