Each of our teachers are truly unique and special. It is such a joy to know when we've found someone new to add even more awesomeness to the team. Mr. Ryan Cox is just that. He joined us for the summer to help run Camp Via Vita and will be joining our teachers this fall for Via Vita Academy's Year 2. He is talented, enthusiastic and passionate. What more could we ask for? Please give Mr. Ryan a warm welcome and enjoy his first, of many, posts to our blog.
I’ll often find myself at parties, self- stationed near the snack table, meeting new faces for fun, and inevitably talking about teaching. Recently, though, my side of such talks on teaching has enjoyed a new and exciting, long-awaited opening line.
Let me explain how the convo used to go, first.
“So Ryan, what do you do?”
For me, the seemingly straightforward answer has long been, “I’m a teacher.” However, it’s that classic follow-up question that so often intrigues me:
“What do you teach ?”
Well, the go-to, safety-first response has always been simple enough: “English, Social Studies, and Music,” and yes, it’s kind of a kickstarter for further conversation, but if I’m being honest, this answer sounds like Water Soup must taste: flavourless and predictable.
(Spoiler Alert: the following is the opening line that’s since been refined.) For the longest time, if the person I was meeting seemed genuinely curious, I would answer them with something a little less obvious...
“I teach the truth, as often as I can afford to.”
Sounds cool, right? This answer would almost always raise eyebrows, and I would always get a kick out of my own cleverness.
Still, sometimes I would be asked to explain what I meant. On those occasions The conversation would start sounding a lot clunkier, more serious, and far less cool and clever. Here’s an example:
New Face raises an eyebrow in curiosity. “Do tell!”
“Well, what I mean is that the subjects I teach are traditionally flexible...for me. As an English teacher, the typical direction I’m given is: Short Stories > Novels > Essay > Poetry > Play > Projects in between. So basically I’m given carte-blanche. Same goes for Social Studies; the materials are more concrete to be sure, but really, past Latitude, Longitude, the Compass Rose and Western Europe on a map, the cornucopia of human endeavour is mine through which to pick. And Music? After “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” the rest of the sky’s the limit! So really, with loose guidelines like those, how could I not afford to be truthful in my teaching ?”
New Face nods, grabs a piece of celery from the vegetable tray, douses it in ranch dressing, and chomps on it contemplatively while I get farther and farther from my once-cool line. ..
“I mean sure, I like getting to teach interesting things, but then I look around the classroom and see twenty to forty different learners. That’s when I shrug and just explore materials that excite me , in the hope that my excitement proves contagious to all of them. And yeah, it sometimes does. But what if the student enjoyed something similar to those carte-blanche guidelines so typically given to me ? That way students might feel like they have some genuine control over their own learning, and get to explore materials more likely to excite them. Doesn’t that sound like something much closer to the true nature of education?”
New Face smiles and says “Of course it does!” Then, having finished their celery stick, they move on to the plate of dessert squares, find a nanaimo bar, and (while I delve into act three of my monologue) begin nibbling away...
“I mean, we’ve both gone through school, so we know that a school where students are given a lot of control over what they learn is pretty much fantasy; in most schools, everyone--the students, the teachers, and the parents--still expect that the student be evaluated objectively, and mostly through the materials that the teacher tells them to explore. As a result, I still end up functioning in the classroom as that stereotypical sage on the stage--standing tallest, oldest, and so presumably wisest at the front of the class, wielding the whiteboard marker like a wand and sharing tidbits of my ‘invaluable’ knowledge through methods of my choosing. And while I may well convince them tha--”
New Face interjects with a question meant to help me get to my point.
“Sorry, but what is the truth that you wish you could afford to teach more often ?!”
“Oh! That there is no singular path in education, for either the student or the teacher. That both deserve a lot of freedom to learn effectively; students deserve the freedom to explore more material that engages them personally, and teachers deserve the freedom to instruct more around those materials. Alas, with class sizes and curricula the way they’re currently set, I feel like I can only afford for my classroom to work like this a couple of weeks of the year.”
In solidarity, New Face shakes my hand and says,“May you find a place where you can teach like that all the time!” Then I straighten my back a bit, and have a go at that dessert plate.
So recently, I found a new school that teaches this way all the time, which is how I came up with my new opening line.
Last night, at a party, near the snack table, I once again met a new face, who soon asked what it is that I do. After I told them that I’m a teacher, they asked what it is that I teach. This time I had a new answer:
“I teach at Via Vita, which means ’Way of Life.’ That’s what we teach--how for every learner, education is exactly that: A Way of Life.”
Then, beaming with confidence over New Face’s curiosity, I grabbed a celery stick off the snack table and started talking.
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