The Crème de la Crème

What kind of teacher are you?  What are your ideals?  Perhaps they are as Maggie Smith explains in her Oscar-winning performance in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, “goodness, truth and beauty.”   Or you might be like Sidney Poitier’s unforgettable Mark Thackeray in To Sir With Love, who teaches urban high school students to respect themselves and each other, despite stubborn racial and social-class conflicts.  He tells his students:  “…I teach you truths. My truths.”

These movie teachers touch upon a reason why we teach:  we have ideals and truths that we bring to the classroom and that fuel our desire to continue in the face of sometimes daunting odds.  They keep us going because ideals are our deeply held beliefs about what’s important and what’s right.  Using ideals to guide us makes teaching richer and makes the world a better place.

Holding on to your teaching  ideals today is challenging. Teaching today is more demanding and complex than ever before.  New teachers I know spend 6 days a week teaching classes, going to meetings, doing curriculum work, conferencing with parents, students, and specialists, planning lessons, assessing student work, and completing endless other tasks.  In such an atmosphere, it it’s easy to forget that goodness, truth, and beauty, and (your ideals here) do matter in the world.

For these reasons, it’s important to know your ideals and articulate them into your teaching philosophy.  When you do this, you create a tangible touchstone for yourself that helps guide your work.

Consider how Miss Brodie addresses her students on the first day of school.  She informs her students they are “the crème de la crème.”  Its meaning is direct and unmistakable. View a brief clip from the movie here and see what you have in common with Miss Brodie’s message.  It poses food for thought about what we say to our students and how we demonstrate our ideals.  Do we use challenging vocabulary? Who are our favorite artists?  Do we hang fine art in our classroom?  Do we state to our students that they’re the crème de la crème?

Like Miss Brodie, many teachers regard teaching as their vocation and are deeply devoted to their beliefs.  I think it’s because our journey to –and through—teaching is a uniquely personal one.  Mark Thackery didn’t realize how much he taught his students–and how much he learned from them–until he was ready to quit in frustration.  Stark differences in culture, experience and socioeconomics challenged every one of his truths until he surprised himself by deciding to stay.

Whether you’re teaching high school, elementary, or–like Miss Brodie–middle schoolers, we all have deeply held beliefs about teaching and why we choose to teach.  Remember to keep them on your mind and celebrate their growth.

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