No profit grows where is no pleasure ta’en.
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.
— Taming of the Shrew, William Shakespeare
My parents, who were both first-generation Portuguese-Americans (Azorean-Americans, to be precise), didn’t graduate from high school. It just wasn’t in the cards for them. But, when they raised me, they always had their hearts set on my attending college. And college, like all education for them, meant opportunity and a better life. The American Dream. Possibility.
Indeed, education has meant all of this for me. No, I’m not rich, and, no, I didn’t attend a well-known college. All of my education was public, and I held part-time jobs the whole way. And this, though I didn’t know it at the time, freed me. With no expectation beyond my schooling other than learning, I was able to do anything, take any class, cook up big dreams. It was only in retrospect, when I encountered students in my high school teaching for whom this kind of latitude wasn’t always possible, that I realized how lucky I’d been.
I’m still lucky. For nearly twenty-five years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching, and whether this took place in college seminars, high school classrooms, or on the stage, I have always kept sight of what education has given to me: a sense of purpose and endless possibility.
At the moment, the education world is ablaze with titles about where education is failing, where it is working, and where it is going. While some authors call for sweeping reforms at the legislative level, others are content to share what they believe is the path to better teaching at the classroom level. I love settling into my chair at night with the most recent research on educational neuroscience or with the latest from Project Zero. But, for all the stimulation (and, often, genuinely good, useful ideas), education, for me, is about helping a student find his or her meaning, and many methods can lead to successful teaching. What passion gets a person up in the morning? What passion keeps a person up at night? This passion is the object, I believe, of learning, and it’s the noblest objective to which teachers can aspire in their practice with children. And when a child finds his or her meaning — or what could, one day, become that meaning — then anything is possible. Purpose and possibility.
I see the next phase of my career as an administrator-teacher helping to get everyone involved with schools — students, parents, teachers, administrators — to continually ask: What is education? Why do we teach? What is the purpose of school? These are the questions that, at first glance, seem easy to answer. I know they were for me.
These questions have gotten much more complicated for me over the years, however. Much more. And for that, I’m grateful.