Teachers Across Many Nations With a Singular Purpose

In Jordan. (Photo courtesy of the author)

In Jordan. (Photo courtesy of the author)

As we celebrate World Teachers Day 2016, I want to thank my teaching colleagues around the world for daring to take on this extraordinary profession, for spending long hours honing a unique set of skills, for teaching generations to come how to mine their own capacities and for helping our young people forge a stronger, more resilient and problem-solving oriented world community.

As I look back on the years I spent teaching in the tribal lands of Zuni, New Mexico, in a rural schoolhouse in Brazil, in an overcrowded classroom in Egypt, at a central university in Jordan, and at an international school in Italy, I am awed by the degree of untapped resourcefulness that all my students possess. Despite the vastly diverse cultural backgrounds, economic classes, and social circumstances within which we teach, there is a common, extraordinary set of skills teachers must employ to draw out this resourcefulness and help develop a resilient, solution-oriented child.

The single most exciting aspect of teaching is watching self-discovery play out in front of you. It is that “ah ha” moment — that overjoyed “I get it!” expression of a student who has been struggling for weeks, but with a little encouragement now understands she has what it takes. It is that student who convinced himself he would never solve the problem, but who worked out a solution by himself with a bit of your guidance. As teachers, no matter where we are in the world, we help students tap into a trove of resourcefulness they don’t always know they have, and in doing so, we change young people’s perceptions of themselves and their own abilities forever.

So how does a math teacher in Houston, a geography teacher in Shanghai, or an art teacher in Madrid do this given the astonishing scope of social, cultural and economic differences they face within their classrooms? In short, our common teacher toolbox is wide-ranging. We have a shared experience in the skills we must hone. Teachers listen carefully and extract real meaning and intent. We assess deliberately and respond thoughtfully. We make an infinite number of decisions about each student and attribute next steps for them and subsequently for us. Teachers all over the world, no matter the language, the background, or the setting, spend years honing a particular set of skills aimed at drawing out our students’ resourcefulness.

The middle school teacher in Los Angeles, USA aims for that “ah ha!” moment the same way a high school teacher does in Lima, Peru or an elementary school teacher does in Johannesburg, South Africa. Indeed, we are people from many nations with a common purpose: We teach!

Claire Jellinek is a 2011 Teaching Ambassador Fellow. She currently teaches social studies at the American Overseas School in Rome, Italy, which she comes to after teaching and learning in Egypt and Jordan, as well on the Zuni Indian Reservation and in Albuquerque, New Mexico.