breaking the mold

I was at the grocery store (Trader Joe's--the best!) and, as always, started talking with the checkout guy. He asked how my summer was going, and I mentioned that I was a teacher--so that it usually went too quickly. Immediately, he replied with the "molding of young minds" comment that seems to encapsulate many people's image of a teacher. I smiled and grabbed my cart, but as I was walking out of the store, I realized that that particular phrase struck me as inaccurate.
I've never felt as if I was "imprinting" the minds of my students in any way. I'm not a particularly "my way or the highway" sort of person, and I've always sincerely believed that I've learned as much from my students as they have learned from me. Being a Language Arts (and Social Studies) teacher, I of course started searching for a metaphor that would fit. I needed something that took away that feeling that I was somehow forcing students' minds into a particular shape. I needed to communicate the conviction I have that learning is not something a teacher (any teacher, no matter how good) can impose on a student. I needed an image that illustrated the best parts of my job, when I see a glimmer of understanding on a student's face--not because I put it there but because they have got "it" and are pleased.
By the time I had gotten this far in my search for metaphor, I was already at home and putting groceries away. I looked among the fruits and vegetables for inspiration and found none, but on one of the bags I did find a small ladybug.

As I transfered the ladybug from finger to finger, I realized I had my metaphor. I can't force the ladybug to go any particular direction; I can't tell the ladybug what to do, but I can make it easier for her to travel on her journey by smoothing the path in front of her, by making sure that she always has somewhere safe to put her feet, and by letting her fly away when she needs to. I treat my students much the same way. I try and smooth their paths; I try and give them scaffolds to hold them up to where they can see what our goals are; I try to let go when I need to to make sure they can fly on their own. I don't mold them--I'm not there to make them look a certain way, think a certain way, or learn a certain way--I'm there to make sure that they can learn. I'm there to show them what paths they could take. I'm there to create a safe haven for them to explore.

Of course, the ladybug also helps me out by eating the aphids on my roses--but you can't get everything from a job, surely.