7. CONCLUSION: WHAT IS A TEACHER?
Teaching is a weighty responsibility. It is also the lightest of burdens. To teach is to perform a vital function as the transmitter of a society's gifts to its youngest members. It is also a perpetual dance, an excuse never to grow old. As a guide to her students, a teacher must remain vigilant in her attention to the course ahead. However, a teacher's ultimate task is to prepare those students for the days when they must go forward without her guidance. Perhaps the greatest challenge to any teacher is to embrace these contradictions, grounding her students in solid, reliable skills as she prepares them to face an unpredictable future.
As a teacher I have kept these ideas foremost in my mind, constantly aware of my responsibilities to my students and ever mindful of the path that lies before them. Maintaining this delicate balance requires the fine touch of an artist, and the precision of a scientist. Being both art and science, teaching is much like architecture. Teachers design instruction to suit the needs of their students, then raise a scaffolding to support the growing layers of their students' learning. However, as with a building, it is the foundation that is most important.
Well designed instruction is a teacher's chief means of fulfilling her obligations to a student's present. Through the use of careful instruction, a teacher guides her students toward the fulfillment of state and district standards, and her own high expectations. Instruction must be carefully planned and modified to accommodate individual needs as it capitalizes on individual strengths. Students must feel that success is attainable, while realizing that standards are high.
In designing appropriate instruction, assessment is a teacher's most important tool. In order to ensure that instruction is meaningful to students, teachers must constantly assess their students' strengths and weaknesses. Assessment must take varied forms, and relate to authentic experiences. Not only are assessments a valuable tool in the planning of instruction, they are the key to communication with student, parent, and administrator about a student's progress.
In fulfilling her responsibilities to each student's future, it is the scaffolding put in place by a teacher that takes on a critical role. Quality instruction must be reinforced by an environment that encourages learning. Instructional support must be available when it is necessary, and tailored to students' needs. It is this support that will ensure that students feel secure enough to take risks in the pursuit of educational goals, stretching their intellectual muscles toward the attainment of higher-order thinking skills.
As in architecture, it is with the removal of the scaffold that the success of the design meets its most critical test. To pass this test, the foundation must be sure. To ensure a strong foundation, a teacher must instill in her students a sense of intrinsic motivation. She must encourage them to develop the habits of a life-long learner: the capability to understand the nature of a problem, the desire to confront that problem and arrive at a solution, and the ability to work independently toward that goal.
In the midst of this enormous undertaking, a teacher must never lose sight of the fact that teaching is a great source of joy. She must not forget the elation that accompanies a new sense of understanding, for it is her task to inspire that elation. She must remain, then, a learner as well as a teacher. Reflecting on the joy she finds in her own learning will help her communicate that joy to her students. Confronting challenges to her own understanding will give her insight into her students' struggles.