Monthly Archives: August 2010

Are You a Teacher Or a Person Who Teaches

When I was much younger and had more hair I would go to a little establishment in Saratoga Springs called Cafe Lena. This was one of those special places where the true artists and truer wannabes would gather for folk songs or poetry readings or student written one-act plays. After putting on a torn flannel shirt and snatching up my obligatory copy of On the Road I would head up the narrow stairs to the tiny stage. I frequented this establishment quite often, especially when there were poetry reading, considering myself to be quite a scholar and scribe of verse myself. On one of these occasions I witnessed something so simple and profound that it stayed with me all of these years. Near the end of one of the poetry readings an older gentleman with a beard the color of grey clouds got out of his seat and took the stage. He was carrying a dulcimer. He sang some songs that he had written, which I’m sure were remarkable but it was what he said at the end of his set that stuck. He said something like: “I know a lot of you in here like to write poetry, but how many of you are poets?” I glanced around quickly, a pang of guilt, and anger rushing through me. He continued: “A poet sees the world in a particular way, and it is not only when he holds a pen. He sees the world this way all the time, because this is the only way he can see it. He is always a poet.” And then he grabbed his dulcimer and left the cafe without saying another word.

I’m certain what the old man said was not novel, and he was probably paraphrasing something he had heard somewhere else. But for me it was like a bell had been rung in my brain that would not be silenced. I think of this story every now and again, and I try to retell it to my students in a way that makes sense to them. I thought of this story again yesterday when I went into my classroom for the first time to begin preparing for the new school year. I ran into a number of my colleagues who were swarming around the office of our network manager, to receive their new Macbooks. Many of them offered me excuses for not attending the Reform Symposium, for which I had invited each one. Some of them told me that they must have missed the email I sent because they never open their email in the summer. I snickered a little to see their mouths gape when I told them that I had done all of the work for the conference without a scrap of monetary compensation, and they quickly retorted that they would never attend professional development for free.

It is here that the positive energy of my PLN breaks down. They are not with me in my school. In my school a teacher who attends free professional development during the summer is either crazy or has too much free time. But this is not how I view it. I am a teacher. A teacher sees the world in a particular way, and it is not only when he is in a school. I am a teacher all the time. This is different from a person who teaches. A person who teaches puches an inner clock, even if that clock counts time outside of the classroom, all the while thinking what will I get for this time rather than what will my students get. I realize now that I can never help those who only teach, and I will continue to be frustrated if I try. But I am going to do my best to find all of the teachers in my district. So which one are you? Are you a teacher or a person who teaches?

Photograph: Hugh Morton via

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