Originally presented at the OSU Community Engagement Conference the following is a transcript of Tony Staubach's presentation, "Catalyst for Compassion." Check out this inspirational message.
If you're looking for a feel good story about an educator in an urban environment who bucks the system while simultaneously working within it, you're going to be disappointed because, this story is about a flawed, competent educator who questions their own existence on a daily basis.
This story is about an educator who knows that the job of a teacher is more like that of an actor than of a scholar, who realizes their role as both the creator of economic cogs and the free thinkers who operate outside the system. I am that Educator, Tony Staubach, A catalyst for compassion.
I once heard the following exchange.
Teacher: Get back in line.
Teacher: I said, get back in line
Student: You're being mean
Teacher: I'll show you mean; do you want me to call your mom?
Student: Do you know my mom?
Teacher: Yes, we went to High School Together.
Student: Do you know my dad?
Student: Neither do I.
And it changed my life.
Another time a student said:
Student: Mr. Staubach, they're suspending me.
Student: I came to school without my uniform.
Me: Why'd you do that?
Student: Well, I had a fight with my foster mom and she kicked me out so, I slept on a park bench outside the school last night... below the security camera so no one would touch me.
And it broke my heart.
But then a student said:
Student: Mr. Staubach, I want to tell you something.
Student: When I grow up, I'm going to take your job.
And I realized my purpose.
The dissemination of knowledge is only a small fraction of my mission. Yes, I seek to impart wisdom but, if I do not impress upon others the importance of compassion then what knowledge is acquired is shrouded in controversy.
It is the love of our neighbors that brings us out of darkness. In times of trouble it is our own passions that transform us from ordinary people into engaged citizens. We have done a great disservice by putting the learner in the passengers' seat.
The whole system is broken. I can no longer put myself first, I can't believe that I know what's best for each student. Time and again I have witnessed the joy for learning sucked out of the lives of children because the systemic role, teacher, is sacred but, student, is not.
If I operate as a sage on the stage and expect my students to become engaged outside the traditional classroom, then I have lied to myself. I must create environments where students are surrounded by choices, where they can manipulate the elements that exist in their world.
How do I do this...
1.) I quench their thirst for hands on learning.
2.) I provide education in the tradition of 4-H and give teachers to resources to do the same.
3.) I view education with a lens of justice and seek to expose learners to transformative experiences.
4.) I allow students to speak up and make choices and I accept their criticism, willingly.
We have the power to lead our youth to success but if our students view success differently then it's all moot. Education is a partnership, our students come with their own preconceptions, and if they're not willing to learn what we're teaching, then we're just wasting time and money.
I'm fortunate that I run a 4-H program and my students have the opportunity to choose what they want to learn. But, students make choices in traditional classroom. They can choose to learn or not, and in many ways our job is to teach children to make wise choices.
I decided that I must build into every lesson, the chance to have my students’ voices heard and their faces seen. I like to start every lesson by connecting with my students, sharing a personal story and allowing them to do the same. The time has come to promise that we will...
provide immersive experiences, and help our students grow. Because to grow is to succeed and to succeed means that they have retained. The only limits to what can be achieved are governed by experiences, our students need the chance to feel, smell, and taste their world.
As an educator it is my duty to:
Never underestimate the power of my students’ voice.
Never underappreciate the gift of their opinion.
Never undersell the authority of their passion.
This is what leads to motivation, innovation and inspiration.
When I was in elementary school my teacher pulled me in the hall and said "Don't let that kid pick on you and drag you down. If I had a classroom full of idiots and one of you, if would make my job worth doing."
I didn't learn anything from teachers who yelled or made me feel less than human. I learned from the ones who showed compassion.
It's not about what you teach but about making your students feel like they belong. Ensuring that they know they have the right to learn. Education should be rigorous but it should first be appreciated. There are many times I have stopped teaching to remind students of this responsibility.
Yes, all of this makes teaching more complicated. I'm constantly trying to come up with new challenges to inspire my students to learn, research, and create. It wears me out, but I do it because I want them to discover their passions.
Often I feel like a failure because I can't change every life, I can't reach every student but when one student come up to me at the end of the day and reminds me that I filled the with a peace and confidence that has altered their life in unimaginable ways, I realize that my work may be incremental but it is instrumental.
I've never felt like more of a success than when a student discovers a new passion, it's like finding a garden growing in the most unexpected location. Passions are not discovered through testing, repetition or anxiety, it's discovered through experiences.
To quote my mom, "I want to be the kind of teacher that Michelle Pfeiffer plays in a movie." I choose to teach with compassion, love and a little bit of inspiration because I know that's how students find success.