So I Want to be a Teacher…

Walt Whitman, 1855I want to be a teacher because Walt Whitman changed my life. Let me explain.

John Dewey discusses what makes a quality experience, how we as educators must be able to identify these quality experiences and create them for our students. Repeatedly, he asserts that a paramount of a worthy educational experience is its ability to linger: “experience lives on in further experience” (Dewey, 1938, p. 27). Well, I have experienced the experience; an experience that (as Dewey says) continues on years later, worked deeply into the fibers of my existence, manifesting daily.


My senior year of college I was lucky enough to be a part of the Looking for Whitman Project. That phrasing is not quite accurate; more accurately, I was lucky enough to immerse myself in Whitman, at times drowning, but mostly happily swimming within his words, his wonderful self, the world he lived in. For the first time in my education, I got it. Something clicked in my mind, and I understood the significance of my educational experience. Which is to say, I took a step beyond Whitman; I began to think deeper, less concerned with “facts” and moving forward with my own original thoughts and analysis. It was through this semester long project that I realized that I can actually think for myself! And you know what? I loved it, became addicted to it. Dewey phrases it nicely: “collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson…” (Dewey, 1938, p. 48). Whitman inspired me, woke me up, and reinvented my brain: no longer a memorization and regurgitating machine, but now a dynamic, fluid living being.

(A long aside: for more on this strand of thought, i.e. the student’s mind as an empty receptacle vs. a dialogical, evolving entity, check out Paulo Freire’s essay “The Banking Concept of Education.” In it, Freire (1993) discusses the relationship between educators and students, power paradigms, and how to revolutionize– in his opinion, improve– education. This is one of my favorite essays, I revisit it often. Like Whitman, this essay inspires me to teach, and teach well, with passion, with care, and an open mind.)

The reason I want to be a teacher is because I find myself insatiably driven to provide this experience (Dewey-style) for others. Life is incomplete without it. Now granted, my Whitman experience was enhanced due to the fact that Whitman had previously been of interest to me, always one of my favorite poets, but it was the intersection of interest and experience that changed my life. There is no doubt in my mind that I have the passion to teach; however, realistically, it takes more than passion. So I muse on the great teachers I have had in my lifetime, those who remain in my mind, and I assemble their qualities. Here are the top three qualities of a great teacher (this is both subjective and subject to change):

  1. Passion and care. For both subject matter and students.
  2. Patience.
  3.  A sense of humor.

Do I have these things? Can I do this? When I am fully truthful with myself, I know that I am remarkably impatient and that this could cause problems. (Numbers one and three I have in spades, not worried about those). Throughout this program, I hope to work on my organization and classroom management skills, both of which take patience. I know that once I have honed those skills, I will be an amazing teacher. So let’s do this! Let us move forward and become the teachers we already are.

“To where the future, greater than all the past,/ is swiftly, surely preparing for you.”       Walt Whitman, Turn O Libertad


Works Cited

Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and Education. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Freire, Paulo. (1993). Chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum Books. Retrieved from



Tags: , , , ,

4 Responses to “So I Want to be a Teacher…”

  1. […] find myself cycling back to my first blog post, in which I discussed Paulo Freire’s essay The Banking Concept for Education. When we lecture […]

  2. lhyde says:

    I love your honest assessment of yourself. You are clearly reflective, so that will cancel out #2. IMHO anyway. 🙂

  3. alongerb says:

    Great post! (I loved the Walt Whitman quote, too.) I agree with your top three qualities that a teacher must possess. I currently substitute teach and it is extremely important to have a sense of humor since your workday might not always go as planned. Patience, passion and care are also VERY important. If you have no patience with students, they will fall behind, and if you take no care with your words/actions, your students will not respect you. If I had to pick one of these as the most important quality, I would pick passion: if you are bored with what you are doing, your students most certainly will be bored as well.

  4. caseycatron says:

    What a wonderful description of your “Aha” moment. I think this is something we can all remember at some point in our lives and you put it very beautifully. You have pulled some great quotes from Dewey. I particularly like the use of “collateral learning in the way of formation of enduring attitudes, of likes and dislikes, may be and often is much more important than the spelling lesson…” as a description of thinking for your self! I look forward to reading more of your posts.