Because I am educator, I am aware of the principle that things ought to be learned step by step.A teacher, in principle, does not give more difficult skills without first teaching a child the simple skills. Letters are learned before sentences. Counting comes before adding. The physical world is taught before the atomic one. That’s what education is about – it is an attempt to provide a structure where learning can take place in a fairly controlled setting.

But life doesn’t always come with structures. Oftentimes, we find ourselves struggling to meet the demands that life throws at us. A curve ball is thrown and we’re not even on the plate, much less ready to bat. How many times have I been forced to learn something difficult to meet an urgent issue without the luxury of being walked through the basics. But there is no “teacher” to complain to or to make demands from. There is just life, looking at me with raised eyebrows as though challenging me to prove myself.

And I find that when I do face a challenge head-on (as opposed to my initial reaction of wanting to hide in a hole somewhere and wait for others to carry my cross for me), I find that’s when the most valuable lessons are learned.

I have learned that nothing is really as scary as it seems. People are generally kinder than I think they are. I’m a lot stronger than I think I am. And those little things that I took for granted that my teachers “forced” me to do when I was still in school – managing pressure, doing my daily duties, working hard at something until I got it right, working with others, asking for help, cracking a difficult problem – those things weren’t just skill-building, they were character building. Formal schooling prepared me for life far better than I realized it did.

As a teacher and as an adult, I see more clearly how important it is to let children experience some form of hardship, to not give in to everything they want, to teach them not just to do well in school but to do well in life. Intelligence may get someone the job but perseverance gets him the promotion. Success is certainly important, but the ability to pick oneself up after a fall is necessary. Moreover, school is not so much accepting the learning we get but discovering our ability to learn.

As I begin another school year, I take my vocation to teach more seriously than ever, I am more grateful to my teachers than I have ever been, and I am more challenged to pay forward their efforts and hard work on me.

[Originally written in TACKED THOUGHTS for The Freeman
by Nancy Unchuan Toledo]

nancy toledoAbout Nancy Unchuan Toledo
When Nancy started teaching high school at age 21, she didn’t really think she’d make a career out of it. She was right. Ten years later and she realized teaching isn’t her career, it’s her passion. Writing is her passion, too, and she writes a bi-monthly column for the Freeman. Mostly she writes about her family, her friends, her students, her experiences in teaching, her love of books and her faith. Because those are the things that she cares about the most–although not necessarily in that order.

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