I became a teacher because I wanted to change the world. I’m not so different from most other teachers in that regard. Where I am different, though, is that the burning desire to “make a difference” has become a lot less nebulous for me over time. I think for too many educators that desire gets subsumed in the ordinariness of mere exam preparation, simply because they give insufficent consideration to what it actually means to “make a difference”. The desire to shape lives and make the world a better place exists, but what the end product looks like remains unclear, and consequently – because they are not too sure where they want to go – they do no real planning to get there. As time goes on, society’s pressure to make education about grades rather than character triumphs, leaving the teacher somewhat disillusioned and the world fundamentally unchanged.
I refuse to let that happen to me.
It’s really about paradigms. Too many teachers see their job as primarily informative in nature. Society encourages that by measuring a teacher’s competence by the grades his or her classes produce. And so we teach poems instead of poetry; we dissect novels and plays like laboratory rats. We become desperate to find out what a text means so that we can obtain marks, rather than engaging in dialogue with that text, so that we can decide how to let it shape us. Teachers tend to forget that their vision is primarily transformative, not informative. We help young people shape their ideas – their perceptions of themselves and of the world. We do it because ultimately their actions will be driven by those perceptions, and if we do it right, they will also become instruments of social transformation. We diminish hugely the value of what we do when we reduce it to pass rates and grades.
I am a language teacher. Not because I am obsessed with correct grammar, but because I love stories. Stories have the power to change people. They have the capacity to plant ideas, to restore hearts, to inspire self-reflection, to foster hope, to drive change. But not if we simply insist on using them to get marks. Not if all we do is reduce them to plot summaries, character profiles and simplified themes. We have to give stories a chance to do what they do best: touch hearts.
That’s what I want to do with this blog. I want to give people a chance to talk about stories and how they have shaped and continue to shape their self- and worldviews. I want it to get infectious. I want their quests for truth – however they may individually manifest – to be shaped by the quests of others who have walked, or are walking similar paths. I want us to share ideas, to wrestle with difficult issues, to question, to risk vulnerability and discomfort, to grow.
And it doesn’t have to be contained by the walls of the classroom anymore. The internet, whatever its vices, has given us that gift. We can finally use literature to connect in the global sense.