“Every week I want to learn something new, and every week I want to teach someone something new.” -Chef Edward Lee, “The Mind of a Chef,” Season 3/ Episode4
by Rachel Klein
I made a mistake in front of my students, thinks the teacher. Oh, God, I made a mistake in front of my students. I am the mighty educator, hailing from the hallowed hallways of academia, and I made a mistake. That’s it. There goes my credibility. I may hail from these very hallways, but I come from a different school of thought, one that honors mistakes and moves on from them. It is in these moments, these uncomfortable, pride-squashing moments, that I expose the very core of what I’m trying to embody for my students — I am a lifelong learner, and it is from mistakes that I rise up and become even better.
Throughout a school year, a teacher can usually count on being asked what drives their practice, what informs their pedagogy, and why they chose the teaching profession in the first place. I knew the answer to this long before I even knew I wanted to be a teacher- I never want a day to go by that I don’t learn something. I have always enjoyed school, but more importantly, I’ve always loved learning. Cliche or unoriginal, I’ll admit, but this is why I am drawn to teaching. It affords me an environment in which I can’t help but to learn something new every day.
I imagine that my passion for learning ekes from my pores every day and floats out on sweet little feathers that land gracefully in my students’ laps. I imagine that my students are inspired by me to learn, to eagerly soak up knowledge as if it were dripping from the pages of a textbook. I imagine that they go home and ponder the deeper meaning of my words, that they sit at the kitchen table and go on and on about how much they learned in Mrs. Klein’s class that day. Not only does this make me delusional, but it also makes me unrealistic. I don’t care. If I don’t believe this about myself, if I can’t convince my students that I enjoy not just teaching, but also learning, then I’ve lost sight of why I chose to teach in the first place.
I know that not every student is going to seek knowledge as fervently as I do every day. I know not every student sees my classroom as a sacred place where they become enlightened. Furthermore, I know not every student even has a kitchen table at which to sit and talk about me. There is so much in a student’s life that is out of my control, but what I can control is who I am when they’re with me. I can show my students the value of a “not yet” mindset, that not all learning occurs perfectly right away. I push them to always chase new learning and knowledge by modeling those behaviors in my daily practice. Even if the feather floats just above their reach, I can help them grow tall enough to grasp it.
To me, learning doesn’t always manifest as an academic pursuit. The lessons, skills, and concepts I’ve learned during my time as a teacher are rarely academic in nature. But opening my mind to lessons that come from the mundane, the day-to-day, and routine has brought me some of my greatest revelations. Allowing myself to be taught by students, by interactions with my colleagues, and by the systems within a school has opened my eyes to how I can be the best teacher possible.
Last week, my husband and I continued our binge-devotion to “The Mind of a Chef”, a series produced by chef and author Anthony Bourdain. We were delighted to watch the Louisville episode, which featured local chef Edward Lee. In discussing his own pursuit of happiness he said, “Every week I learn something new, and every week I want to teach someone something new.” This resonated with me, and in a way, validated my own devotion to learning (and inspiring others to love it as much as I do). This man is a chef, not a teacher, and he pursues knowledge as a habit. Plenty of other people constantly want to grow and learn. This means that plenty of the students who come to me are capable of this love of learning, no matter what they want to make of themselves.
Fostering a love for learning is the pinnacle of my pedagogy. This is why I’ll continue to be delusional and unrealistic about my work. I will continue to spread my wings wide and hope that a few feathers land in an unsuspecting student’s lap, and that they are inspired to absorb every little drop of knowledge put in front of them.
Rachel Klein is a 10th year ELA teacher at Meyzeek Middle School who has been nominated three times for Kentucky Teacher of the Year. When she’s not molding minds in the classroom, she is at home dancing with her daughter and trying new recipes in the kitchen with her husband.