The Teacher/Ally

One of the great values of an independent school education is the relationship between teachers and students. For most parents, this is the most important part of a school experience because parents want to know that someone cares about their child from day one. And parents want to know that there is someone invested in their child’s life through good and bad. Here at MA we pride ourselves on the connectedness we have with each other, and the relationships formed from our close knit community. We also pride ourselves on the presence of master teachers who know that there is no formula for these relationships, and that being a teacher and an ally is one of most important things we can be to a young person. But what does this look like on a day-to-day basis?

20131206photoclass16751A teacher/ally listens deeply.

Real listening requires putting aside our own thoughts and our own ideas and focusing on the person in front of us. Listening means engaging in students’ ideas, honoring their insights, and striving to hear the experience. We can’t pass judgements, and we can’t project our own experiences onto the situation. To listen deeply is to give space to a moment of celebration, a moment of struggle or a moment of need. And from listening deeply a teacher/ally can see the entire picture and hear not only the story but also the backstory. A teacher/ally can tease out the truly important details and find ways to move forward. And the teacher/ally can find the kernel, the root of what really needs to be heard.

A teacher/ally always tells the truth.

The truth often elicits negative emotions, but when it comes to supporting and instructing growing minds, students can hear the candidness from a teacher/ally because they are perceived as always having the student’s best interest in mind. Truth is the first step in developing trust and respect. Without honesty, our teachers cannot foster deep and meaningful growth with their students, and a teacher/ally always presents the truth so as to be most impactful and most appropriate. Sometimes the most caring thing you can do for a student is to tell the truth.

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A teacher/ally helps students see the truest reflection of themselves.

One of the greatest traditions we have at MA is our senior speeches. They represent a moment of clarity and a moment of great reflection for each senior. What I find most exciting about these speeches is not the honesty or vulnerability that our seniors display, but the sense of self they convey. Our students leave MA knowing who they are. This is not to say that their identities are fixed, but through their experiences in the community, in the classrooms, on the sports field, on the stage, our students have learned who they are. Some students enter as athletes and leave as scholars. Others enter as thespians and leave as athletes. And even others enter not knowing where they fit, and yet they leave MA having found themselves in the theater, the classroom, and in Outings. Along the way, there have been teacher/allies there to guide and correct, inspire and share. These teacher/allies ask probing questions about intentions, and clarifying questions about actions, and our students leave knowing who they are and what they can achieve in the world beyond our campus.

A teacher/ally helps students have courage in moments of doubt or trouble.

As a parent myself, I know I worry about how my sons will manage failure. How will they deal with uncertainty? How will they handle struggles that are out of their control? The answer is simple: they must have courage. This is one of the greatest gifts a teacher/ally can give to his or her students. And this is one of the greatest strengths of our teachers and all teacher/allies. The teachers at MA are a diverse and eclectic group of people who have experienced a wide array of emotions and life experiences. They have seen the highs of success, but they have also experienced the lows of failure, and what they model and what they share with the students is that the truest growth comes from facing doubt rather than running from it. Courage is a necessary part of adolescent development, and the teacher/ally understands this both from their own experience and their understanding of how adolescents learn and grow.

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In all, our teachers strive to challenge the experience of each and every student. They look for ways to use experiences as a jumping off point, a point from which to move forward. They advocate reading between the lines and around the edges in ways not always seen by the student.

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About Travis

Head of School, Marin Academy.
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