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More Who, Less What?

by Professor Joe Martin

One of best lessons I ever learned in my early years of teaching was to “focus on WHO we teach, not just WHAT we teach.”

To some I know this concept sounds somewhat foreign, because ever since we were in college (preparing to be a teacher), subject mastery has always been the primary focus.

Very few classes prepared us for unruly children, immature middle schoolers, or disrespectful teenagers. Yes, I admit, as a former professor, the higher education system needs to be revamped. We’ve failed to adequately prepare our teachers for our wonderful profession.

However, in spite of the inadequacies in the system, I try to teach incoming teachers (including seasoned ones) the aforementioned philosophy – “It’s not just about WHAT we teach, but rather WHO we teach.” Now don’t get me wrong, WHAT we teach is vitally important to our students’ success, as well as our school’s success. But sacrificing the WHO for the WHAT is just plain criminal. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Well, I would go even a step farther by saying, students also need to know WHY you care.

With the increased emphasis on standardized test scores, students are starting to be treated more like “things” rather than human beings. And this has to stop. I believe one of the many reasons teachers struggle to stay motivated in the classroom is because the system seems to reward and acknowledge “test performance” more so than “true passion.”

I truly believe the success I’ve been able to enjoy with my students (from the gifted to the incarcerated – I’ve worked with them all) is largely due to the fact that I teach the student, not the subject. Yes, I want my students to learn the material, but more importantly, I want them to know they’re loved, even if they don’t learn the material or pass “a test.” I know that may be hard for some educators to swallow, but I know 15 years from now, nobody will remember my students’ test scores, but my students WILL remember me.

So start asking yourself, “Do you care more about your students succeeding in school or in life?” I’ll let you decide what you think the right answer SHOULD be. But remember, nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” So teach with passion, and remember to practice what you teach!





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