California Educator

November / December 2016

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Compare and Contrast Teachers, students not so different after all By Matt Biers-Ariel T he differences between teachers and students are legion. There is the obvious that teachers are more knowledge- able, at least in our subjects. In my students' eyes, the main difference is that they are exceedingly more dope than me since, through no fault of my own, I am an adult. Another clear difference is that students' lives are linear. Beginning in kindergarten, they ascend each year to the next level — never to return to the naps of kindergarten, the class pets of fifth grade, the high school prom. en with diploma in left hand, they toss their caps with the right and get on with their lives. In contrast, teachers' lives are circular. In August, we start with a fresh set of faces, and together we ascend the mountain of knowledge. Come June, we reach the summit, more or less. During the sum- mer, teachers leisurely stroll down the slope to meet a new class waiting to climb the same mountain. Not the agony of Sisyphus, but the same general idea. Despite these differences, we have a profound similarity : our collective ignorance of our place in the world. Both teacher and student started life in the same manner when the stork deposited us on our parents' porch without explanation. How shall I live? Who am I? What gives life meaning? Both postpuberty student and master teacher struggle with these existential questions. What few students realize is that inside every teacher I have ever met lives a kid trying to make sense of the wonder, the beauty, the horror, and the absurdity of life. And as my students will attest, I am no closer to pro- fundity than they are. In fact, students often offer me life lessons. Sometimes they are insights I've forgotten. As a youth, I traveled the world searching for enlight- enment. Lately, I've been obsessed with the size of my 401(k). A class discussion returned me to my youthful idealism that a comfortable life is not a substitute for the search for truth. Sometimes students teach me something novel. Last month, Erica came into class and said, "Biers, I always say hi to you when I get to class, but you never even smile." "Yes I do," I said. She gave a smiley smirk and shook her head. ough I always thought I was a friendly teacher, I now make it a point to give her and my other students a big hello when they 18 your voice Matt Biers-Ariel perspectives Illustration by Kate Humphrey from a narrative video of this essay (see link on opposite page).

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