A teacher can be a really scary person.  He or she comes from a background you can't predict.  This is the reason I think sometimes the conservatives are nervous about sending their children to school.  Sometimes the teacher might not think like you, and sometimes your children will start to think like the teacher.  

It is not a bad thing, this new infusion of ideas and experiences you get at school.  It should be somewhat uncomfortable.  But it should also be done in a way that is supportive and understanding of the fact that something new is sometimes equal parts exciting and unnerving.  Parents teach you things, but teachers teach you other things.  My parents were always interested in new things and I was lucky that they knew enough to look beyond what they had already experienced.  I was fortunate to have the parents I had.  Even so, my teachers assigned books my parents never would have given me.  One eighth grade teacher assigned us an Ayn Rand book (I can't remember which one, and it didn't make much of an impression, but I read it), and a tenth grade one assigned The Power and the Glory, which I also don't remember the specifics of, but do remember it feeling like it was both the most challenging and most rewarding book I had finished up to that point.  My parents fortunately taught me to try new things but my teachers taught me those things.

I have been thinking about the interplay between the responsibilities and challenges of parents and teachers this week as today is "Parents Day" at my university.  Several writers (both front pagers and interesting diarists) have had children here.  As you might expect, those are children (young adults)  who are not afraid of challenging ideas, who are curious about the world.  But there are a lot of students here who haven't really thought outside their own communities before, and it is both exciting and scary for them to be so far outside their comfort zones.  Some of them are rural, some have very tight and supportive families even if they live in a big city, and for the former we may be the largest city they have ever lived in (we have 17,000-ish in town), while we will be the smallest for the city-dwellers.  It is challenging for both to adjust to being so far away from home.  We are a residential campus and it is a dramatic change to be out of your own home, sharing a room with a complete stranger (and even if you are rooming with your best friend, that person will be a stranger at times!).  You will be meeting people who do not believe the same things are you -- they will include Muslims and Jews; they will be of different colors and have strange accents.  Some of those people who are different will be your fellow students, but some of them will be teachers.  

I have been fortunate to travel with students who have never studied abroad, and in fact the first group of students I took to Egypt included two who had never been on a plane before.  If you want to start to travel, you might as well dive in on the deep end.  One of them has since gone on to work at a college where she takes students abroad herself, and has often talked to me about what a change that initial trip made in her life.  On a trip to England many years ago, I took students to a Thai restaurant, helping them order from an incredibly exotic menu.  Most of them found something that was interesting and good enough that they would order it again if given the opportunity.  We don't have any restaurant like that here in town, but I have cooked that type of food, as well as Middle Eastern food, for certain groups of students (seniors, student clubs, particular classes).  One of my former students combined both Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian interests by marrying an Israeli, getting a Middle Eastern Studies Master's Degree from Tel Aviv University, and learning Indonesian and Dutch in preparation for a Ph.D. on Islamic Architecture in the Malay world.  I wish I were her -- it would be the absolute perfect combination of my interests.  I will have to content myself with reading her books!

In some ways it is easier for me to act as an introducer of new things to students, as I have a very similar background to most of ours.  I am white, from a city (but not a huge one) in a neighboring state.  I look like them and I sound like them.  I like pushing myself, and every once in a while I like being outside my comfort zone.  It is scary to me, and sometimes I don't enjoy it.  But in the long run, I feel stronger, and so I continue to try interesting new things.  I read weird books, although I am more willing to set aside books I am not enjoying than I used to be (hence the whole bunch of partially-read books all over the house).  I want to help my students try new things and figure out what they might actually want to be, eat, and how they might want to travel and meet new people.  They may find life-long friends and/or lovers (I am not passing judgment on either).  They might find religion (I have known students who have converted to Islam, left college to go to a religious school, and even one who become a Buddhist nun) or become vegetarians, or libertarians or even (heaven forbid) Democrats.  These are all things that they discover for themselves, and they figure out are suddenly very important to them.  My job as a teacher is to provide them with those choices and to validate them as being reasonable ones.  If they don't know there are other ways of thinking, people who don't think like them and are worthwhile human beings nonetheless, then they might miss some of the most wonderful experiences they could ever have.  

I feel sorry for students who are not much different at the end of a four or five year college career than they were at the beginning of one.  They may not know how they have changed, but they should have developed in both knowledge and attitudes toward the world and they should be someone almost new by the point of graduation.  I hope.

There are other mechanisms for introducing students to new ideas -- it isn't just teachers and classes, or study abroad.  Their fellow students and the staff and community (both on and off campus) will have a great impact on them.  But however it happens, please grow, change, and become someone new.  You will probably like yourself being a new you.  I hope so.  

How did you change?  Did a teacher impact your life significantly?  

Originally posted to annetteboardman on Sat Sep 21, 2013 at 11:38 AM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Community Spotlight.

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