I am a teacher of English, but I sometimes think I’m more of a steward of English. My on-line dictionary tells me that a certain type of steward takes care of people, and perhaps manages some aspect of their lives, and I actually like that as a description of a teacher. It seems to me – and I enjoy reflecting on this – that I’m taking care of my students when I’m teaching them grammar rules or how to read sophisticated novels. They bring me the part of their lives that deals with understanding and using the written word, and I do my best to help them oversee it and hopefully refine and polish it. An airline steward looks after the needs of the passengers, and it seems to me that I do the same for my students as they travel through their widening worlds of writing and reading. If they appear to need punctuation assistance, I’m there with a rule and a smile, just as I am when they need a strenuous but inspiring writing assignment. It has often seemed to me that I am – and perhaps should be – more of a helper than a teacher, more of a steadfast and unassuming servant than a loud leader. I can hear some readers responding that students need leaders more than servants, and of course, in a way, that’s true, but perhaps I can be both a leader and a servant, both a teacher and a steward. I am not at all reluctant to embrace the assignment bestowed on all teachers – that of being of service to students – because it is in serving students that I can best teach them, and it is in taking care of their academic needs that I can be a leader who truly leads. Passengers need stewards to show them the way to an easy and satisfying flight, and kids need teachers who teach and steer by serving and caring.
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