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Teachers vs Educators: Which Are You?

How many of those people were educators who spent time helping to sculpt us into the people we are today?

This past weekend I had the experience of a lifetime when I presented my first TEDx talk at a TedxYouth event at Burlington High

All of the speakers were very inspiring, but I'd say that the student speakers stole the show. Timmy Sullivan, a senior at Burlington High School, closed the event with a compelling talk about the difference between teachers and educators, which got me thinking (and I'm sure I'm not the only person who was wondering which he'd classify me as).

First, he sought to define what a teacher is using the dictionary. Courtesy of Webster:

A teacher is "one that teaches; especially one whose occupation is to instruct" versus an educator, who is "one skilled in teaching teacher." I agree with Timmy that these two definitions don't really distinguish between the two well enough.

For me, like Timmy, a teacher is someone who shows up for a teaching job every day. He or she knows the content and likely teaching like a job. Whereas an educator is one of those people who go farther than what is expected. It's the teacher who makes relationships with students more important than the content, but because of those relationships, the content comes alive.

Teaching isn't just a job to an educator, it's a calling. It's passion and commitment and a desire to amplify the voices and dreams of the many children whose lives touch them as much as the educator touches theirs.

Timmy spent time going through his schooling career and came up with a shortlist and tried to figure out what they had in common. Being much farther away from my formative education, the fact that some educators still remain inside my consciousness to this day as I continue to grow in this profession as I try to emulate the impact they made on me supports their classification as such.

I'd like to give a little shout-out to a few educators who have helped shape me into the person, writer, and educator I hope to become.

Margery Kashman - MK taught 12th-grade honors English. She read my personal writing and encouraged me to keep at it, as a matter of fact, she still does now. Being in her class made me love reading and we shared many probing conversations at lunch about Grendel. When it came time for me to do my observations as I was becoming a teacher, MK was the teacher I wanted to observe most. She invited me back with open arms.

Mr. Johannan- Calculus teacher who made math an experience. His classes were fun, challenging, and engaging. I enjoyed math that year.

Mr. Williams - High School music teacher. He knew I was shy and lacked confidence as a singer, but always offered me opportunities to try. Performing in his groups taught me discipline and made me feel a part of something that really mattered. The music bled from him and his excitement for the subject filled the hallways with song.

Ted Chereskin - an art teacher who let me follow my whims, no matter how crazy they were. He allowed me to test my curiosity, even if it meant me casting my entire body in plaster or using pencil shavings as filler in a collage. No suggestion I made was out of bounds. I took risks in his class and he supported everyone.

Mr. Scheiner - my 4th-grade teacher who I accidentally called "daddy" once. He didn't shame me, he was flattered. It was in his class that I learned to love reading not fear it. His presence was a commanding one and despite the way he looked, his demeanor was so gentle and warm. I was going through a hard time in my life at that time and school became a place I wanted to come to hideaway.

Dr. Maxwell - 11th grade honors English. She challenged us all to consider literature in a way that made me think. We put novels on trial. Ours was Deliverance. I'll never forget the experience of arguing against censorship despite the content of a novel.

Dr. Berman - 9th grade honors English. English came alive as we passed the conch shell around the room in our discussion of Lord of the Flies or we talked about phonies in Catcher in the Rye.

Each of these educators had a profound impact on my life both at the time and now as I look back and consider the legacy I want to leave in this profession. After 14 years of teaching, I can only hope that I touch the lives of my students in the same way that each of these adults did mine. Their compassion and excitement for learning permeated what they did and that mattered.

So thank you to the special educators in my life, past and present.

Who are the educators in your life that made a difference and why? Please share

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in May 2016

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