I was probably told the meaning of the verb “to be” several times in my education, but like many things, it dropped from my usable memory long ago. Yet today, the verb nagged in my cloudy, early morning thoughts, pestering for consideration.
“To be” is a workhorse in the English language. We use it to describe (The flower is red.), to identify (This is Sharyl.), and to locate (The meeting is down the hall.). Yet what I found most interesting is “to be” is also a helping verb, joining hands with the main verb of a sentence to express an ongoing action (She is teaching class).
I remember a personal and perhaps over-fondness of “to be” verbs in my own writing that one poor English teacher sought to correct with “write tighter” scrawled in angry red at the top of my papers. A dutiful student, I sought to correct my error, changing sentences such as I am writing to I wrote. I received less angry red on my papers, but looking back, I lost an important idea in the transaction. Without the helping verb, my revised sentence and perhaps outlook, shifted to one of accomplishment. An avid checklist-lover, I reveled in this subtle shift: I wrote (check); I taught (check); I graded (check, check, and check). With all boxes checked, I had completed “educating.” It seemed I had accomplished much, but I found that I gained little. I was missing the ongoing action that the helping verb provided. I believe Carol Dweck termed this a “growth mindset,” and research has shown this mindset to be pivotal in learning. I did not have this terminology at the time to shape my thinking. I only knew that despite my checklist accomplishments, I was not being a teacher.
At the Teaching Center’s Effective Teaching: An Essential Element for Tenure and Promotion lunch discussion, Dr. Loretta Bond reminded attendees that teaching requires courage. While it can be challenging to instruct a class, it’s courageous to teach students day-after-day, in-class and out, walking with them through the learning valleys and up the assessment mountains. It requires help and ongoing action. It requires being.
Being a teacher – I certainly haven’t figured it out, but perhaps if I did, I would diminish it to a checkmark on my to-do list. I do know that being requires ongoing action with assistance. And I am thankful that the Teaching Center offers this help, not as a sage guide but a helpful companion in being together.
If you are interested in being, join the Teaching Center in lunch discussions, book clubs, workshops, and one-on-one conversations. You can reach the Teaching Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.