Meaning of teaching

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We, meaning teachers in one of our prep meetings, were recently asked to pick a book from the list of the 100 greatest children’s books that best exemplifies why we do what we do.

Of course, the snarky side of me came out pretty quickly — I started looking for books about the Hindenburg or the Titanic, or for “The Lord of the Flies.”

What? You don’t think teachers have a snarky side?

Of course we do; some days, a dark sense of humor is all that stands between the classroom and the asylum.  Especially when we start implementing legislative mandates. But I digress ...

Once I got the snark out of my system, I really started to think about the question (some five or six hours later).

One of the things I thought about was whether the answer to that question is different for me, the person, and for me, the teacher.

How many of us put on a different personality depending on which hat we happen to be wearing?

I would think that for some people that’s an absolute necessity. For instance, I don’t imagine you’d want your run-of-the-mill S.W.A.T. team sniper bringing that mentality home . Most days ...

At any rate, eventually I decided that my A.D.D.-riddled nature and normal schizophrenia make it possible for the answer to be the same book for both (or all) versions of me. And that book is “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.”  Of course, that brought out the snarky side of my colleague: “Why’s that? Because you being good at this is a fantasy?”

Or how about “Because, what?  Once every hundred years an act of God brings about something good?”

Or maybe “Yeah, that’s just because you had to teach in a closet last year.”  (For the record, it was a computer lab, but that’s not as funny.)

But, all kidding aside, teaching, for me, has always been about opening doors. I don’t expect all of my students to become professional musicians or teachers. 

But I want to be sure they understand that those may be possibilities for them. And if those are possible, then what else is? 

Also, I love those moments when my students discover they’re capable of doing something.

And that discovery is like opening a door in their minds.  And doors lead to adventure.

What’s the line from Tolkien? “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, you never know where you might be swept off to.”

And personally — learning, performing, the martial arts — these have always been adventures to me, and I love those adventures. Now that I’m a parent, it seems like the adventure just never ends.

So, when Lucy Pevensie opens the wardrobe door in the spare room and discovers an entire world within, that is one of my favorite moments in literature.

Of course, not every adventure ends with mythical creatures, God and heroic deeds, but the really great stories only happen on the other side of the mysterious door.

Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder. 

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