Saturday, December 17, 2011

Do You Leave Your Mark or Model Your Passion?

The highest praise a teacher can receive generally comes years after the students have graduated and left the building.  Sometimes it finds you in an email when the ex-student, now an accomplished adult, reaches out to say thank you.  Another more serendipitous context finds teacher and ex-student together on a street corner, with the now young adult 'confessing' that the teacher was the reason for their life's career and intellectual direction.

Either one of these, (and many more contexts) have happened to you, dear reader, to be sure.  It happened to me yesterday.  A very cherished, very bright and wonderful young woman (who was my student two years ago) told me of her plans to study philosophy and the unspoken compliment was that the Philosophy for Teens course that she took with me was the reason for her decision.  As I studied her face and demeanour, it occurred to me that she wanted me to feel not only proud of her but of myself for having been the mentor on her path.  But I didn't feel that at all.

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Instead, I had one of those 'ah ha' moments that arrive in a flash in our consciousness.  (Sometimes I see them as inner pictures, other times I hear them in sentences and other times they simply come as a 'feeling'.)  As much as I want to 'leave my mark' and make a difference in the life of my students, that is really not what happens.  In the case of yesterday's student, I think she found her question and it is the question that is 'leaving its mark' and guiding her down a path that she attributes to me.  It might have also be that she connected with her own passion and enthusiasm for wisdom because she saw mine; but the bottom line is that she connected to herself.

When I think of the teachers who 'left their mark' on me, I see the same process and patterning.  Their passion was contagious because it was authentic.  Their questioning (that's the heart of philosophy) modelled good thinking and that's what did it for me because I found that in myself.

So my friends, do we really leave a mark or are we instrumental in helping our students connect to themselves?  What do you think?  I'd love to engage with you so leave a comment!


  1. Leaving a mark is all about making an impression on someone. Connecting is the quality of interaction between teacher and student. I suspect that some teachers are better at one than the other, and some probably think that the second is a bonus, but not part of their job description. Knowing you, Daryl, I agree with Lynn that you probably do both. Perhaps your "aha" moment was more about detachment from affirmation. Either way, you sound like a great role model AND teacher.

  2. In the best case, I also think people can help others connect to themselves. The passion you reflected teaching was most likely clear and authentic to you. I always think that if our mirror is clear of self-importance and personal agenda, other people can find their own sense of self and passion in us as we live our lives out loud. You are a good example of that in many ways.