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Eastern Michigan University Library
Thomas A. Fleming Collection & Lecture Series
Thoughts on Teaching & Education
-- by Thomas A. Fleming 1992 National Teacher of the Year
The student must be challenged to examine not only his or her knowledge, but his or her values. Young people today must be helped to formulate their own philosophy of life. Education cannot take place without relating it to the student's own life and the world that surrounds that life. To expect students to know what they believe and who they are is to relate to them as persons of integrity and value. I believe that an outstanding teacher is one who has the courage to learn with their students in a process of inquiry grounded in principles such as these. The teacher's methods, materials, evaluation procedures and discipline strategies must be consistent with the teacher's convictions about the value and purpose of education.
I would characterize my teaching style as intense and personal. I seek to bring ideas to life, and I tell my students that I am "at war with ignorance." The greatest reward I find in teaching is the hope I feel when students begin to change.
I believe the old saying that if you give a hungry person a fish, that person will come looking for you each time the hunger returns; if you teach a hungry person to fish, you have solved their hunger problem for life.
On education issues and trends:
Nearly all national reform leaders feel that in the last two decades students were allowed too much freedom, resulting in performance declines even as schools were expected to broaden the range of services and curriculum offered to students. Drugs, crime, sexual permissiveness, unemployment, and the erosion of family life seen to haunt our education system, eating away at the foundational assumptions of the past about the purpose and value of education.
Schools can succeed if they provide much more than the usual basic academic programs. Our students may seem sophisticated, yet they are often unmotivated to espouse the values upon which reform depends. Their greatest asset for survival is found in their resilience. When basic trust is built through the efforts of a caring teacher, hope awakens and hunger for personal answers begins to be expressed.
If teachers are to play a vital role they need special support, special training, and a variety of concrete possibilities in the larger community to which they can point their students. Teachers alone cannot build the partnerships with parents and other caring adults in the community, provide job opportunities, or solve complex social problems which impact our youth. The social will must be found at a larger level.
On teaching as a profession:
I recommend teaching to someone who feels excited about the possibility of influencing the development of young minds, and doesn't mind hard work, both physical and mental.
Only with experience does one learn of the great responsibility entrusted to the teacher and the great respect that is afforded to a truly committed teacher. I believe there can be no greater honor than that felt when a student says, "You're a good teacher!"
One important area of professionalism is the sense of authority which is expected of a teacher. Authority is conveyed not by assuming a controlling manner, but by active listening and by developing the ability to interpret student behavior.
The teaching profession cannot exist or succeed in isolation, and the best teacher cannot succeed without the accountability and responsibility of every member of the community. I would challenge responsible citizens in every community to come together to develop a plan of action based on a set of principles akin to a declaration of educational rights for the youth. This would be a commitment to secure for them the life, liberty, and happiness, which can only be enjoyed by an educated populace.