The promise of tomorrow
Making the classroom a sacred place
I have long given up on trying to convince the powers-that-be in the TEFL industry to do the right thing for the students. Recruiters who just want their finder's fee; language school directors who spend their time counting their money instead of providing quality education; administrators who couldn't care less about the students; educational bureaucrats who take more pride in signing papers and patting themselves on the back instead of working for the children they claim to represent; co-teachers who prefer a foreign entertainer in the classroom rather than a responsible native English teacher; and uncaring immature native English teachers who look forward to a Friday night drinking binge more than a Monday morning lesson are just a few of the problems in this industry that never seems to change for the better.
Every once in a while I see an advertisement on various teacher websites that asks a teacher to write an essay on why they want to teach English in a particular country. I decided to take that challenge. Not that my essay is going to help land me that perfect EFL job. I mean, just look at the title. After reading that, would you hire me?
For every reputable school that is looking for serious, responsible, caring, and dedicated teachers who are committed to the success of the students, there are many more who simply don't care about the teachers they hire or the students under their tutelage. That's too bad, because when we rob children of their future, we destroy the soul in every society. Here's the essay.
The Promise of Tomorrow: Making the Classroom a Sacred Place.
"Education is a sacred thing, and the pledge to build a school is a commitment that cannot be surrendered or broken, regardless of how long it may take, how many obstacles must be surmounted, or how much money it will cost. It is by such promises that the balance sheet of one's life is measured."
Greg Mortenson, "Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, In Afghanistan and Pakistan ." (Viking, Penguin Group, Inc. New York , New York , U.S.A. , pp. 64-65.)
Thank you very much for this opportunity to apply for a teaching position at your school. Regardless of whether I am hired, regardless of whether I am chosen to represent the dreams and aspirations of the students I have been given the responsibility to teach, I am deeply honored to have been given this opportunity to apply.
There is nothing more important, no experience more humbling, nothing more sacred than the education of children. If cement and bricks are the building blocks of constructing a house, then it must be said that the classroom is the very foundation where the hopes and dreams of children are planted and carefully nurtured.
This planting and careful nurturing of our children's hopes and dreams are found in the hearts of caring and dedicated teachers. Teachers who sacrifice their time day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year to ensure that their students receive the finest education.
When I think of the characteristics that make a good teacher, responsibility comes to mind. A good teacher must be able to respond to the needs of the students. Patience is another important characteristic of a good teacher. Honesty, integrity, compassion, dedication to the profession, and a burning desire to help the students succeed can elevate a good teacher to the realm of potential greatness. But what makes a great teacher stand out more than anything else is sacrifice. A great teacher sacrifices his time, his energy, his effort, and above all, himself.
In today's modern world, the word "sacrifice" has been given a bad rap. According to http://www.yourdictionary.com, sacrifice is defined this way:
1) The act of offering the life of a person or animal, or some object, in propitiation of or homage to a deity;
2) The act of giving up, destroying, permitting injury to, or forgoing something valued for the sake of something having a more pressing claim;
3) A selling or giving up of something at less than its supposed value.
The act of offering a life, giving up, destroying, permitting injury to, forgoing something valued? Wow. Is it any wonder that no one today is willing to sacrifice their time or effort? Especially when we have been told over and over again that to sacrifice is to give something up?
These definitions are not correct. They are wrong. These modern day definitions have taken us way from the true meaning of sacrifice which is found in its Latin root "sacrificium." From http://www.yourdictionary.com:
Etymology: OFr < L sacrificium < sacer, sacred + facere, to make, do
To sacrifice is to make something sacred. When we sacrifice, we do the sacred. When we truly sacrifice we do not lose anything. We do not give something up. We do not destroy. We do not permit injury or forgo something valued. We gain something. In fact, we gain many things. In making the classroom a sacred place, we gain the joy of seeing the sparkle of wonder in a child's eyes. In sacrificing our time for our students, we gain the satisfaction of knowing that one day our students will look back on the time we spent encouraging them to follow their dreams.
Great teachers are leaders, knowing what must be done. Great teachers are responsible and teach responsibility to their students. Great teachers are process driven and results oriented, and know exactly what is needed to produce a desired goal. Great teachers are caring and patient and know deep in their heart that what is taught today will be practiced tomorrow. Great teachers make the classroom sacred. Great teachers take the teaching and learning process and make it sacred. That's what great teachers do.
Great teachers like Rafe Esquith from Hobart Street Elementary School and author of "There are no Shortcuts", "Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire", and "Light Their Fire." Rafe takes his sixth grade class in an inner-city neighborhood of Los Angeles and teaches them Math, Science, Economics, and Shakespeare in a very innovative way. Many of Esquith's students come from Korea , Mexico , and Central America where they never learned to speak English. Yet with Esquith's skill, patience, caring, and compassion, these students are soon reading and understanding great American literature and producing full Shakespearean plays.
Esquith also instills in his students time-honored characteristics which he implements and incorporates in what he calls, a "Classroom Culture": These important characteristics are:
1) Be nice,
2) Work hard, and
3) There are no shortcuts.
Esquith knows, as all great teachers know, that in order to have good students, we must first teach them how to be good people. As Esquith says in his books "We may teach today but we do not teach FOR today." We teach for a better tomorrow. We teach children today so that they can find success 15 years from today. Because of Esquith's great and timely advice, I try and incorporate a "Classroom Culture" of my own.
"Year after year, The Hobart Shakespeareans excel. They read passionately, far above their grade level; tackle algebra, and stage Shakespeare so professionally that they often wow the great Shakespearean actor himself, Sir Ian McKellen.
Yet this takes place in Room 56, at a large urban public elementary school. All of the children at Hobart Elementary School qualify for free breakfast and lunch, and few speak English as a first language. Many are from poor or troubled families.
What's the winning recipe? A diet of intensive learning mixed with a lot of kindness and fun. These children come to school at 6:30 a.m. and often stay until it is dark. They come during vacation. They take field trips all over the world. They play rock and roll music. Mediocrity has no place in their classroom. And the results follow them for life, as they go on to outstanding colleges.
It is not easy, but these children dare to defy society's expectations. These kids are hungry, and they want out. They work their way out. After all, there are no shortcuts."
Because of his creativity, innovation, and a "take no prisoners, damn the torpedoes" attitude, Rafe Esquith is a hero-teacher of mine.
Then there's Erin Gruwell, an English teacher who taught in the 1990's at an inner-city school in Long Beach , California and author of the book "Teach with Your Heart." In an article on http://www.heroes.com titled "Teacher Hero: Erin Gruwell", Jerrilyn Jacobs writes this:
"For Erin Gruwell, walking into her first teaching job was like entering a war zone. Gruwell was given a class of "sure-to-drop-outs," students no other teacher wanted, students who weren't expected to succeed. The school was tough, racially divided, and gang-infested. Fights and even murders were part of the students' experience. Some of the kids were homeless. Others came from broken or abusive homes. They saw people they knew using drugs every day. There were few places to go to be safe and few people they could count on.
Gruwell brought in Holocaust survivors as guest speakers. She worked a second job on weekends so she could take the students to movies and on field trips.
Inspired by their readings and field trips, Gruwell's students started keeping diaries in which they wrote about their daily battles and experiences. For some of them, Gruwell's class was the only place where anyone wanted to hear their stories. For others, it was the first safe place to share them.
Gruwell's class became like a family. They made a life-altering "Toast for Change," where they all agreed to give themselves a chance to start life over. Inspired by the stories of the original Freedom Riders who fought segregation and prejudice, they called themselves The Freedom Writers. All the time they continued writing in their diaries."
If this sounds familiar, it should. There was a movie made on the life of Erin Gruwell called "The Freedom Writers" starring Academy award winner Hilary Swank portraying Erin Gruwell. Because of her creativity, her courage, her caring, and her dedication to her students, Erin Gruwell is another of my hero-teachers.
That is education's promise: Learning from the wisdom of yesterday, embracing the reality of today, so that we all can partake in the promise of a better tomorrow. By sacrificing their time, by making the classroom a sacred place of teaching and learning, great teachers make this promise. The promise that if we learn the lessons of the past, work hard and apply ourselves in the present, the future will indeed be a better place. In a sacred classroom with a caring and dedicated teacher, all things are imaginable and anything is possible. That is the promise of tomorrow. A sacred classroom is the greatest gift that we can give children.
Now I am not some young, bright-eyed, Pollyanna idealist who thinks that if we just held hands and sing "Kumbaya", the whole world will become a better place. All the singing and hand-holding in the world will never change the fact that the world is a very dangerous and tragic place: Especially for children. In the last decade I have seen more children suffer than I care to admit. I know how truly important a good education is.
I have seen children in several countries living and dying on the streets when they should have been in school. Like "Jane Doe", a sixteen year old pregnant girl from who spent the summer of 2009 selling her body to foreign men on the beaches of Thailand . And young children, barely 10 years old, selling everything from books to gum and candy to foreigners on the streets of Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City . I have met shoe-shine boys in Istanbul and have seen young girls strung out on drugs and lying in the gutters of Bangkok . I have seen children in the Philippines hold out their dirty but hopeful hands and beg for money when they should be in school. I have read the horror stories of young girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan who have had acid thrown in their face by religious extremists. Their only crime: Having the courage to go to school. I have also read the sad stories of young Southeast Asian boys being forced to work for slave wages in sweatshops, and young girls in India and the Middle-East being pulled from school and forced to marry much older men. They should be and remain in school.
From Manila to Mexico , from Thailand to Turkey , I have seen innocent children living and dying on the street when they should be learning in school and dreaming of a better tomorrow. I don't want to see that anymore. It makes me sick. It is a constant and sickening reminder of how all of us, teachers and parents and guardians are failing children everywhere.
According to Greg Mortenson, author of Stones into Schools and Three Cups of Tea, and quoted above, "Today, there are over 120 million school-aged children on this planet who remain illiterate and are deprived of education due to gender discrimination, poverty, exploitation, religious extremism, and corrupt governments." (Stones into Schools, p. 381.)
There are tens of millions of children all over the world who have never seen the inside of a classroom. And have never experienced the caring of a dedicated teacher: A teacher who makes the classroom a safe and sacred place and offers the promise of a better tomorrow.
So if you're looking to hire a babysitter who, in the end, will not be allowed to do the hard work needed to properly educate a child, then don't hire me. I am not interested in becoming a babysitter. If you are looking for a foreigner to play the clown and treat every class like a birthday party at McDonald's, then pass me right by. I am not interested in playing the clown. But if you are looking for a teacher who is dedicated to the educational needs of the students, if you seek a caring teacher who will focus on education, who will put his students first, if you desire to work WITH a responsible teacher who will sacrifice his time and will treat the classroom like the sacred place it truly is, then I'm your teacher.
Education is not a game. It is not a toy. And it is certainly not an experiment. Education is an endeavor. It is a process. It is a calling from an entity higher than ourselves. Education is a mission which compels us to make a positive difference in the lives of our students and to leave a lasting legacy for years to come. To be given the opportunity to make the classroom a sacred place for teaching and learning is an honor and a privilege. To be given the chance to make a child's dreams come true is a huge responsibility; a responsibility I take seriously.
So I must ask you: What kind of teacher are you looking for? Are you looking for a teacher who is responsible? A teacher who will put the needs of his students first? A dedicated teacher with the drive to succeed? A wise teacher who knows what needs to be done long before stepping into the classroom? A determined teacher who is process driven and results oriented? A caring teacher who loves teaching and cherishes the hopes and dreams of each of his students? A flexible teacher who can adapt to the demands of each lesson? A teacher who takes pride in sacrificing for his students? A teacher who makes the classroom a scared place for teaching and learning. A teacher who takes all the lessons of yesterday and today, and promises a better tomorrow. If you are looking for a teacher who does this, and more, then look no further than me. I would be pleased and honored to work with you to ensure the success of your students.
I began this essay with a quote from Greg Mortenson's book, "Stones into Schools." Greg knows better than most what happens when we don't tread the education of children with the reverence and respect that it deserves. Greg knows more than anyone what can happen when we dedicate ourselves to providing a good quality education to children. After all, Greg has dedicated the last two decades of his life helping to build schools and providing the miracle of education, especially for girls, in Pakistan and Afghanistan . Right in the heart of Taliban country!
I will end this essay with a quote from a father. It could be any father. A father who just wants the best for his children. This father's name is Abdul Rashid Kahn. Mr. Kahn is the Amir, the leader of the Kirghiz people of the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan . When speaking with Mortenson one night in Afghanistan over dinner, Kahn said,
"All I really want for my people is a school so that we can provide education for our children. To achieve that, I am willing to give up all of my wealth--- all of my sheep, all of my camels, all of my yaks--- everything I have, if only Allah will grant this one request." ("Stones into Schools", p. 131.)
Isn't this what we all want? To provide education for our children? Isn't this what every parent desires more than anything? We can have it. There is no reason why one child should be denied an education. We have put a man on the moon. We have developed the medical technology necessary to extend human life. All around the world hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty and have taken their rightful place in the middle-class just in the last two decades. There is no reason why any child should be denied an education.
I know I have a part to play in all this. A small part, but an important part. And if you decide to hire me, my promise to you and the students is as essential as it is time-honored. I promise to be the guardian of each child's hopes and dreams; to dedicating myself to teaching and nurturing them; to letting them know that with hard work and by sacrificing their time to help others, there is nothing my students can't accomplish. My promise is my bond; a sacred covenant between myself and my students. Will we struggle? Yes. All great endeavors are worth the struggle. But by working together, we will accomplish great things. That is my promise. That is the promise of tomorrow.
Thank you and I look forward to helping your students reach their full potential.