Dear teacher

Dear teacher… | Photo on Flickr by spaceamoeba

” Dear teacher,

You once meant the world to me. Among all the people who were there to teach me something, I believe you were the one who had it all figured out. You enticed me with your love for the new, you lured me into a world of learning, but yet, I now feel I’ve failed to learn what you were trying to teach me. And I believe that I should apologize for not being able to learn things so well… or should I? I’ve been thinking it over, and my reasons for doubting my need to apologize go far beyond your need to constantly say that if I didn’t learn it, it’s because you haven’t done a good job.

Dear teacher, do you truly mean what you say when you publicly claim that your students failure are your own? Are you such an almighty being that no one can fail on their own accord and that your ability to teach or not is what makes it or breaks it in my education? Perhaps, if you really meant what you say, this would be true. I must confess I’m slightly disappointed in you, though. And I’ll now explain why.

You once believed you could teach me by being friends with me. You’ve probably read somewhere that affection makes a difference in learning. You’ve also probably read, somewhere else, that laughter lubricates learning, and you tried to make your lessons funny. And then you may have heard from a friend that learning should be student-centred. How perfect was that, huh, dear teacher? All you had to do was come to class and chat with your students, let them discover new things on their own. This is probably something else you claim to have read – students ought to become autonomous learners.

To make things even better, you found arguments to support the use of things you so much enjoy using in your daily life in our lessons. You’ve read somewhere that I’m a digital native, and that technology would make learning a lot easier to me. You’ve enticed me to follow you through a path of discovery of things you were supposed to be teaching me, but that I’d eventually find out on my own by using the gadgets that are so common to those of my generation. To be fair with you, you could even mention the names of the people you’ve supposedly read, and even name theories.

How much longer do you think you could have gone? You’ve read somewhere that there are teachers using technology and whose students are succeeding, and you’ve also read somewhere else that there are teachers who simply talk to their students and they miraculously learn. Oh, dear teacher, you have as one of your favorite quotes the one that says that you’re not preparing students – you’re helping them become life-long learners. Isn’t it a tad contradictory that you haven’t been doing what you’ve been preaching?

You expect me to accept that mistakes are part of the learning process. However, you cannot conceive of having done me wrong in your attempts to educate me. Wouldn’t it be much easier to help me if you took your own advice and said, just for a change, that you may not know exactly what you’re doing? How much longer will you cling to book titles, halves of first chapters, headlines and superficial talks to base your principles? How much longer, dear teacher, till you start taking responsibility for the choices you’ve made for my education to your hands instead of blaming it on what others have been doing?

Isn’t it time you started reading beyond the headline? Isn’t it time you started accepting that there are people who know more than you and that you can learn from them? Is it that heard to keep an open mind to different thoughts and ideas? Why is it, then, that you keep asking me to keep mine open?

Dear teacher, how often have you said that grades don’t represent learning, and yet it was the final yardstick against which you measured my success or failure? When will you stop paying lip service to what others say regarding education and start walking with your own feet? When will you be able to accept responsibility for what you have done in your classes because you believed that was best for me, not because a PhD somewhere said this is what had to be done? What if you yourself bought into the idea of being a life-long learner and were willing to truly lead me to discovering what I should discover? Instead, your option has been to say to me things you don’t actually mean. You say one thing, but you do something else.

Dear teacher, it’s time you stopped mentioning the names of John Dewey or Paulo Freire if all you know about what they’ve done is what someone else has told you. It’s time you stopped using flashy gadgets and technology in class simply because you’ve been told I love that and this is how I learn best. I want to remember you for what I’ve learnt from you, not for the jokes you told me when you were supposed to have taught me something.

Dear teacher, you have no idea how much I’ll idolize you for having taught me something. Please, understand that my education is not a popularity contest among all those who walk into my classroom to talk to me. This is serious stuff, and I may be just a bit too young to realize how serious a business it is. I depend on you to show me what I can do. You’ve often said you’d like to be responsible for my learning – I put myself in your hands. As much of a cliché this may be, I’m placing all my dreams and hopes for the future in your hands. Will you truly help me live up to my potential? Have you been constantly trying to improve for that to happen?

Dear teacher, all I ask of you is that you mean what you say. Don’t take the soft way out by placing all the responsibility of my learning in my hands. Learn what learner centered education truly is before you say your lessons are learner centered. Learn how to effectively integrate technology into your teaching before you say that all those videos and Internet use are actually teaching. Criticise me! We only set high standards for those we believe to be able to get there. Don’t settle for anything less than what I can do. You see, I believe all you say about my learning, so if you say I’m ready to move on to the next step, I will be happy to do so – I’ll only be mature enough to realize I wasn’t ready when it’s too late. It’s your call, my dearest teacher.

It’s your call… are you going to face the challenge of educating me, or are you going to really leave me to my own fortune? Are you prepared to challenge me, to tell me I’m wrong, to tell me my work is not good enough, and to put up with my tantrum, or will you take the easy way out? If you choose the easy way out, if you’re not prepared to mean your words and to act accordingly, please, step out of the way. The world is tough enough as it is. I most certainly don’t need you holding me back.

You say my failure is your failure, dear teacher. As long as you believe that success is the same thing as moving on to the next grade or level, you’ve failed me for sure. If you’re going to treat me as a human being, you’d better understand sooner than later that education is a complex issue, and there’s no way you’re going to be able to help me without hard work from me and you. I’m in your hands, dear teacher, make sure you know what you’re doing.

Yours faithfully,

A student”

22 thoughts on “Dear teacher

    1. I’m humbled by your comment, Paraskevi. Many thanks for the compliments. As for the last bit of your comment, yes, unfortunately I share your concern and this seems to be happening worldwide – people who are supposed to be thinking education apparently couldn’t care less about it.

  1. Well Henrick, a post of posts!
    Certainly one that will stimulate much thought and reflection for the coming year!
    Suppose that is why I DO indeed hold you in such high esteem…it’s when we really challenge ourselves and dig in deep and question the things we’ve grown comfortable with, the “chunks of teacher training talk” we sometimes throw about because these chunks are in “vogue”, it´s when we re-assess all this that we have a minimal chance of changing and fostering the creation of a true learning space which will also allow for change.
    Thank you for this, made my day!


    1. Hi Valéria,

      The feeling is mutual! I guess one of the best things of this online world is that it’s helped people connect and find out more things in common with one another. I hold you in very high esteem and I’m glad to have the chance to cooperate with you at #breltchat. I certainly look forward to being able to discuss other ELT and education matters with you. 🙂
      I’m currently running our Teacher Training Programme, and just before it started, I was thinking about the many interviews and all the talks I had with people who have applied for a position and who claimed to know a lot, but could never explain basic concepts they had just told me they were firm believers in. Go figure…

      Thanks for your comment. It made my day, too! 🙂

  2. What a wonderfully written post. I am sure it will stimulate a lot of conversation. May I copy it and put it up in the teacher room at my institute (referenced of course)? I think it is true some of us (and I am certainly no exception) get caught up in snippets of exciting methodologies that we have read about, implementing them as the ‘grand solution’ to learning, before we have really analyzed their worth. I for one will be taking a step back and re-assessing a few things. Thank you for writing this.

    1. Hi Karen,

      Thank you for your thoughts on the post. I guess we can say we’re all a bit guilty as charged, right? However, my impression was that this has become more and more recurrent lately…
      It’d be an honor for me to have this post in the teacher’s room of your institute. Be my guest! I’d love to hear what other teachers think of it as well if possible! 🙂

  3. Hello Henrick,

    that is just about the greatest post..When I read it all kinds of emotions filled me, and I thought isn’t it about every one of us?…I’m moved, I’m definitely printing this out and reading and re-reading it again and again.
    This letter to my mind is a piece of art and style.
    Congratulations, thanks for writing this, which is incredible!

    Cheers from Moscow,
    Ann L

    1. Hi Anna,

      I’m truly flattered by your kind words. This post had been in my mind for quite a while, but I guess it was only when the idea of writing it as a letter came that it truly came to life. I’m just happy that others enjoyed it too. 🙂

      Hugs from Brazil!

    1. Hi Brad,

      I’m humbled by your words, mate! I do enjoy your writing a lot, and your comment makes me really happy to see this post – which I’d been thinking about for a while – could actually resonate with some people I have great admiration for.

      Thanks! 🙂

  4. Hello Henrick,

    There is so much to comment on here. This part really caught my attention:

    “You expect me to accept that mistakes are part of the learning process. However, you cannot conceive of having done me wrong in your attempts to educate me. Wouldn’t it be much easier to help me if you took your own advice and said, just for a change, that you may not know exactly what you’re doing?”

    I grappled with this idea quite a bit when I first started teacher training. In Korea, teachers are placed on pedestals. They are considered to be experts in their field, and for whatever reason, expert seems to equal “no mistakes”. So when teachers come to our in-service course, they are overwrought with the expectation of leaving as “perfect” EFL instructors. When I first started teacher training, it seemed I had caught this bug too. I was extremely nervous about making mistakes. I didn’t want to show my “weakness/flaws”. Finally, the charade was too much for me. I started admitting my mistakes; I shared my limitations. The beauty of it is that by letting go of this societal/personal expectation, they also felt they could let go. Many of the teachers commented on how refreshing it was to see that teachers can still make “mistakes” yet still be inspirational.

    Thank you for reminding me about this.

    1. Hello Josette,

      Many thanks for your comment. I believe many of us, teachers, start our careers afraid of making mistakes and not knowing exactly what to do the first time a student asks us a question to which we do not know the answer, or are not certain of it. This is, in my opinion, to a large extent the result of the pressure you mention and the way that teachers are seen by others. We expect teachers to know what they’re doing and tend to forget that they’re also just, well, people. Yes, they do possess a lot of knowledge to teach, but that’s far from being all the knowledge there is in the world. As a teacher, I’ve learned to deal with my limitations and with the fact that it’s OK not to know it all. As you said, it’s a liberating experience and one that allows for growth to take place.

      Again, thank you for the comment! 🙂

  5. Excellent Henrick
    You can see from this that learning and teaching must seen through the eyes of the learner.
    Well done dear Teacher.

  6. Hello Josette,
    A very thought provoking post. Every teacher should reflect the teaching process. It reminds me the letter written by Abraham Lincoln to his son’s teacher a long back. This is the high time the teaching learning process should reflect the child needs not the industry or others needs.a few people at apex level making the decisions and piping them to bottom.


  7. A perfect post for some much needed reflection before a new term starts… sometimes it’s all about remembering, reflecting and challenging yourself.

    a BIG thank you, Rick. Wish I could give you a big hug.

    Ceci x

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