One of the many hats I wear in this life is that of a teacher of Special Education at a public high school and today I found myself deeply pondering the duties of my position.

The place of a teacher has been boiled down to the act of force-feeding facts to the children placed in our care each day, usually against their will.  Most teachers believe it is their duty to explain the material composing their given subject. And the pressure teachers feel to have their students pass the Mastery Tests in light of the No Child Left Behind Act, causes most to push the facts alone, too pressed with the short-term to consider the long term. When truly a mentor’s job is to spark a child’s interest in our given subject within the heart of the student.

“Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” This Chinese proverb captures the true duty of a teacher. Yes, we can teach students the facts and, if we are lucky, they will retain those facts long enough to regurgitate them on our quarterly tests. Yet the reason why our children fail the more significant annual tests is that, after the monthly tests are completed the bulk of the knowledge we give them is discarded and the child’s mind is absorbed in the newest technological novelty of come into their hands. The only way to teach a child–to achieve genuine and lasting comprehension—is to spur their desire to educate themselves.

Instead of anesthetize our children with numbing facts in a vain hope to drill in information they do not find interest in, we must shock them with the boundless nature of the world they live in and spur them from their despondency, awakening in them a desire this world–to explore the past and progress the future. From what I have experienced both as student and teacher, most teaching styles actually suppress the appetite for learning in a child; resulting in an adult population who are unnourished, who hold no appreciation for the gathered wisdom of the past generations, and whose intellectual and creative potential has gone undeveloped. For only when there is a desire to learn can we truly be educated.

Every child has a subject that brings them to life—an interest that they would happily give their lifetime contributing to, without payment. It is this fire, already present in the student’s mind, that a mentor can take from and spread, creating a wildfire—a bright-eyed, driven will to know. As a teacher myself, overwhelmed by the growing class sizes and shrinking funds, I understand the difficultly of giving each individual child the necessary personal attention needed to help them want to learn.  Most days we barely have time to impart to them the lesson of the day, let alone give time to other matters.  Nevertheless, in the end, if we are not willing to give that extra effort we have no business putting ourselves in the lives of an impressionable child.  And if we are truly to ‘leave no child behind’ we must help them see the virtue in walking the path.

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