National Teacher Appreciation Week: Reflections on Being a Teacher

Wednesday, May 7, 2014
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I really didn’t set out to be a teacher – it’s more like teaching called me into its ranks. I think that’s what “vocation” actually means. Even as a child in grade school, I enjoyed gaining knowledge, figuring out how things related, and then explaining that to my classmates. Helping others understand what was at first confusing has always been a delight to me. A maxim variously attributed to Einstein, Richard Feynman, and with a variant cited in Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, says that if you can’t explain it to a six-year-old you probably don’t understand it yourself.

As I reflect on 30 years of teaching and look forward, adding the new dynamic of moving to Indonesia and teaching in the Asia-Pacific region, I cannot think of a better profession. In my case as a theology professor, to think deeply we grapple with the ultimate questions of being, meaning, and where that fits into the biggest picture of all. We then are able to discuss that with friends and students. It really is wonderful.

May 2, 2014 was my last regular classroom day at Northwest University. Next school year, I will work with online courses and return for intensive courses in the graduate program. That day, one of my students asked me what the most significant and impact-producing thing was in my tenure. At the time the answer was obvious and quite simple: It’s all I have learned from my students because the act of teaching is really an act of mutual learning.

However, upon reflection, I would like to refine that answer. The most important things I learned came when I discovered I was wrong and was able to correct my thinking. That doesn’t mean I’ve got it all figured out now. I am constantly on a journey of discovery and understanding.

I believe a person who cannot learn is unfit to teach. Teaching called me through the intense desire to learn, understand, and be useful in this world we call home. So, during this “National Teacher Appreciation Week,” I am appreciative of the opportunities the professional provides me and require nothing more in return because I have received so much already.

Waldemar Kowalski
ScanSnap Squad, Education

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