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Picking up my game

| March 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

By Courtney Watson

I’m lucky enough to be both a teacher and a pilot. Which one comes first, I’m not really sure, but I head off for flying weekends with fellow pilots.

By day, I teach English at one of the prominent boys’ colleges – St Stithians College – in Johannesburg. Recently I flew to Nylstroom airport, where I camped under the wing of a vintage biplane. As with most camping experiences, there tends to be an atmosphere of collegiality and I got chatting with another pilot, who pitched his tent next to me underneath the wing of his Cessna.

His name was John, and he had decided on a latein- life career change and became a flying instructor. It was a decision that changed his life. He said that moving from the corporate world to teaching students how to fly resulted in him being completely fulfilled. According to him, teaching is more rewarding than anything else he has ever done, and he is the happiest that he has ever been. And surprisingly, it is not because of the flying, it is because of the teaching.

Getting hooked on teaching

My new friend became most animated when he talked about being able to see potential, no matter how small, and being able to manipulate that potential into action and success. He said that when he got it right, when he connected with a student and that ‘light bulb’ moment happened, there was no need for a thank you or a high five.

His measure of success was a huge grin from the student’s seat next to him. John spoke about how that connectedness was a bit like a drug, and the more he got it right, the more he wanted to get it right. The flip side of all of this was that John confessed that he learnt more about himself, and even though the student was rewarded with a new skill and hopefully a mastery of that skill, John was the real recipient of fulfilment. His flying got better, and so did his teaching.

Changing the world one student at a time

I was a lot like that when I first started teaching in an English classroom, and I’m sure that anybody who has been involved in teaching started off with a similar outlook; an empowering naivety that made me feel like I could change the world. And I think that the first few years of my teaching was just like that. I took on any challenge. The ‘difficult’ students were the ones that I wanted because I felt like I could get through to them. I could do anything and I could teach anything. Slowly, I learnt my own teaching style, and the same sort of successes that John felt while instructing were my successes.

They inspired me, and I left the classroom charged and passionate. I’m still sure a number of my students walk away with a lightness in their step when they leave my classroom. At least I hope they do. Some do not, and they might never feel as inspired as I hope they could be. I think it was always like this, but the difference is that when I started teaching, I celebrated my successes and didn’t worry about the lessons that didn’t work. I had a glass-half-full attitude.

Don’t worry, be happy

When I look at then and now, I wonder where some of that spark has gone. The residue is definitely still there, but in some ways I wish that I could rekindle that naivety that I have lost because of my teaching experience. As a student, my lessons were probably less than perfect, although they felt like they were challenging the status quo and the way that my students thought. Looking to where my teaching is now, though, I wonder how much has really changed.

Now, I tend to worry about those lessons that didn’t work, and I feel that I am responsible for the boys who just don’t get it. I should be able to help them connect with my subject, shouldn’t I? I mean, I am their teacher, after all. At the same time, the students who are inspired by my lessons have become a bit of a given, and besides my being very arrogant about that, I have forgotten to celebrate those successes.

Celebrate success

My thinking about my teaching also came about from a video clip that was shown during one of our chapel services. It was by a National Geographic magazine photographer called Dewitt Jones. His message was the inspiration that I need to revert back to the naïve teacher that I used to be. He spoke about how we must celebrate what is right with the world, because in doing so, we are able to see that potential for greatness within our own perspectives, and only then can we be stimulated to fix what is wrong with the world.

I need to be more inspired about my own teaching. I need to be inspired so that I can help the boys who are struggling a bit more. Instead of getting caught up with my ‘failures’, but rather by focusing on successes, I think that I can rekindle the greatness that I was once inspired to own. And I wonder how many teachers have followed a similar path to me.

How many of us have become disciplinarians, rather than inspirations? I need to recapture the enthusiasm that John spoke about when he is instructing his students, instead of getting caught up in the semantics of my job. I still love teaching, but that feeling of first love has dimmed somewhat, and I need to polish it up. 



Category: Autumn 2014

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