Teachers and Love

In my previous post, I began writing my philosophy of education that focused on 5 areas.

  1. Teachers must love their students.
  2. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.
  3. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.
  4. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.
  5. Knowledge truly is power.

I summarized #1 like this.

My manifesto starts with controversy. Love, you say? Inappropriate. However, you are wrong. In the case of a teacher, love for students simply means wanting the best for them. You may argue that I should just drop the word love and go with “Teachers must want the best for their students”. I disagree with that because the word love is more powerful and brings weightier connotations. I want this statement to have that weight and those connotations.

Education is a service industry and its aims are best achieved when teachers seek to serve their students. I believe that this service is best acted out not simply out of duty or even affection, but love.

I chose to start my philosophy with love because it is both a tone and context setter. I firmly believe that our actions as teachers should flow from love. My main reason for starting here is not because I naturally love my students. My natural inclination is to teach my classes and get out because relationships are difficult and often frustrating (especially with young children). But I believe my default approach is incompatible with the approach a service industry job requires. Relationships matter. I started with love because I am a Christian and believe it is foundational and more important than knowledge. (1 Corinthians 13:2, If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”)

So, the next obvious question is what does this look like?

In my overview article, I described the love a teacher should have for their student as “wanting the best for your students.”

However, this is not so helpful as a road-map. It is too broad and vague. We must put this love in its context, education. What is the purpose of education? I propose that the primary purpose of education is to help students learn about that which is true and/or valuable while helping them learn about society and the world. I will unpack this more when I get to #4. In short, education should help students learn about the world and their culture’s values.

This then makes teaching the primary role of the teacher. While this seems commonsensical I feel it needs to be said. Google isn’t a magic cure all. Skills that are not based in knowledge are ultimately empty and not useful. Students must know stuff without looking it up.

The other way teachers can love their students is by enforcing the rules in a warm manner. I have seen some schools referring to this as “warm-strict”. I think this is a fantastic approach. Essentially this approach tells students, “We have rules, and you must follow them for your own good and for others.” But, and this part is key, it also makes clear to the students, I value you for you.

Finally, I will get to the most traditional aspect of love, the relationship. The reason I go to this part last is because I view teaching students and warmly enforcing the rules as foundational. They allow for relationships with students to grow. When students know that the teacher and school value learning, they are more apt to try and learn. If you are not teaching, you are not loving your students, plain and simple. Warmly enforcing the rules is important because it helps to embody the idea of love. When the students know what the rules are, that they will be punished for breaking them, and that they will be valued no matter what, they will be more likely to both follow the rules and learn.

Finally, it is in this calm, focused environment created by the warm-strictness and the focus on teaching and learning that allows the relationship between a student and a teacher to flourish. Here, the teacher can interact and get to know students and their academic interests in the classroom while learning their personal interests during breaktimes/lunch/etc. Notice my order. In the class, I believe it is important to focus on academics as a way to love your students. Sure, you will pick up on their personal interests in the classroom, you will have times where you tell jokes in the classroom, but your focus must be on educating them. Use the down times in your school wisely. Get to know your students. Make it clear that you value them. Even if you feel you can’t tell your students you love them, express it.