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edu180atl: john porter 8.17.12

In Michael Mann’s film, The Insider, Jeffrey Wigand enters a classroom for the first time. “I find the study of chemistry to be magical. An adventure! An exploration into the building blocks of our physical universe! Today we will measure the molecular weight of butane.” He flicks open a lighter and his students are eager. Schools are now in session but I sit at home.  I left the profession in July. Officially I am retired.  Better said, I just stopped teaching. I have learned today that I miss school.

I found teaching far from magical. I think students carry anxiety as a consistent companion. Everyone from Angelou to Yeats refer to teaching as magical. In my former school there is student anxiety: about grades, college, parental approval! I never could find the antidote for this anxiety that would enable my students to magically engage the deeper values of reflective learning.

I dreamed of teaching my students that honesty is the greatest of personal strengths. I wanted to teach them that they could and should confront their friends with truth especially in morally dangerous situations. Jeffrey Wigand is an important person for students to know. He confronted the outrageous duplicity of the major tobacco companies. For his trouble, he lost house, family and career. I do not think I ever realized my dream. Honesty cannot be measured for a grade. I do not blame the students. I wasn’t very effective. I have learned this is what makes teaching such a challenge.

 About the author:  John Porter (@jjp_ny) recently retired from the field of Religious Studies. Now ponders the meaning of the educational universe. 

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Natalie Sterrett #

    Father Porter, you will always be one of my favorite and most influential teachers. You are wise, compassionate, and understanding. It’s the reason you taught our classes so well, and perhaps also the reason for your heartache. I loved that you recognized our anxiety and that you pushed us to explore the depths of our own minds. You taught us about the misery and sorrow in our world, that we might better understand our own. At times, I could see that it was difficult for you. However, you also showed us hope and kindness, the very tools we would need to combat our anxiety. Many of your students left your classroom better off than when they entered. I understand the sentiment in your post. However, maybe the reason you feel such sorrow is because you did, in fact, accomplish something throughout your years of teaching. You made an impact on your students, as they did on you, and your departure may at first feel somewhat of an abandonment. You’re never ready to leave when you’ve been doing something so fulfilling. Just a thought. Of course, teaching is always a challenge. And it is never something that will be completed. As a teacher, you were a stopping point on our journey. Your influence, however, is lasting.

    August 17, 2012
  2. Well-said, Natalie. I imagine you are not alone in your recognition of Father Porter’s significant gifts to you and your classmates. I would add that another challenge of teaching, in my experience, is that we don’t always know our impact immediately. More than once, I have been surprised many years later by communication with former students. One of those messages just reached me last week from South Dakota. Also, we teachers are part of a group who hope to support and guide students. Together, we want to push, lift and comfort you. And John, thank you for your many gifts to your colleagues, also–including today’s post.

    August 18, 2012

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