Noodle Expert Lisa Beymer shares what Abraham Lincoln and Marianne Williamson taught her about being a great educator.
Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?
My answer would most certainly be former President Abraham Lincoln. No matter your political affiliation, there is no doubt that he was a phenomenal leader with a great heart for the equality of people. In working my way through Educational Leadership coursework in graduate school, I read a great deal about Lincoln's leadership. He was a dedicated and honest public servant who took time to meet individually with citizens. That is an impressive practice for any leader, let alone one who had as many responsibilities as Lincoln did.
He was also steadfast in his beliefs, focusing on the betterment of the country, but he would disagree respectfully when the need arose. I believe such qualities mirror those of a great teacher: compassionate, equitable, dedicated, approachable. Lincoln seems to have been a person who inspired many and left a sizable legacy of humility and equality in a government that struggled to do the same.
Beyond all that, he was well-versed in the history of our country and impressively knowledgeable about the many subjects his job required him to address. More remarkable still, this is knowledge he sought out himself. Such effort shows a great desire not only for self-betterment, but for meeting the demands of the presidency and fulfilling his role as an active citizen. I believe he would make a phenomenal History of Government teacher who could teach me great things about the development of our country. It seems he would have been the type of educator to push students to consider questions from numerous angles, formulating informed decisions or opinions. I imagine he would have challenged me to think more deeply as a student and as a responsible citizen.
What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?
There have been innumerable tokens of advice that I have collected from colleagues, peers, and advisors over my years in education. All of these have impacted bits and pieces of my work in different ways. But I feel that the most influential advice I've received relates to the way I approach life in general, and how I live and interact with people. Without my own moral compass, I cannot lead others in the work that I do. More often than any other saying, a quote from Marianne Williamson rings in my mind:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
It is a beautiful realization to know the power that is within us to better the lives of others if we only allow ourselves to. I feel this most strongly in my work with children and future teachers. They all come to us with so much brilliance and potential, and it is within us to help them see that — and to show them our own brilliance, so that they will not belittle their own. Fear is crippling — fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of vulnerability. I would hope I could instill in students a recognition of the light that is within them, humility in allowing this light to shine from them, and a joy in seeing that light shine in others.
Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?
I am not sure that I would send them anywhere. Rather, I would want them to choose. And not just based on a location they believe would be entertaining. I would encourage them to first identify why they want to travel and what they want to accomplish on their trip. Without this sort of purpose, there is no sense in traveling; doing nothing can be done at home.
I would also encourage them to consider what they would want to do for others as they traveled, and how their interactions with others would better them when they return home. As their list dwindled, I would advise them to consider the time and resources of their travel. Again, there is no sense in travel if the costs incurred are not improving you in the end.
And finally, I would make my own suggestions. If I’m looking at it from an educational standpoint, I don’t know that I would recommend any place above Washington D.C. Without understanding exactly where our freedom of education came from, it is hard to own it as the treasure it is. The patriotism exemplified in this city is palpable and powerful, and something I believe everyone should experience in some shape or form.
When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?
My most powerful experience from my educational career was not from academic failure, specifically. Instead, it was from my involvement on a school sports team. We had a state-winning girls basketball team that I was proud to be a part of. And yet, as a senior in high school, I was insecure. Specifically, I did not find myself worthy simply by being me; instead, I found my value in the eyes of other people. I cared more about the people in the stands watching me than the way I was playing, and this meant, unfortunately, that I was never playing to my full potential. I was a good player, but I could have been better. I let my concern for other people’s opinions overshadow my ability to be my best self.
This understanding has been critical for me in my approach to teaching, particularly reaching my college-aged students. There is something so utterly frustrating about the development of self-worth because it often emerges later than when it was needed. I'm sure many of us would like to go back and tell our high school self: “Stop caring what other people think! You will never fully develop your potential if you don’t first discover, for yourself, who you want to be.”
This is an important message I hope I can pass along to my students. I don't want them looking back at their time in my class thinking, “I could have done better” or “I wish I had taken the time to learn ... ” I want them to come away from my classes feeling confident in themselves — their abilities, their knowledge, their potential. This is how they will be prepared to be powerful teachers and powerful support for their own students.
Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?
The students. I have a deep and endless love for working with children, and my ability to teach them was one I held with reverence. Now, at the university level, I take my work even more seriously, with the understanding that my daily impact on future educators directly reaches more students than I could ever teach myself. I began my work in special education and instantly fell in love with the kids I worked with. I believe that students with disabilities are highly under-challenged, and I made it a goal of mine that they understand, value, and use their individual brilliance.
The biggest surprise I faced in my teaching position was the disconnect between special education and general education. It seemed that it was unnatural, or unpracticed, for teachers in these two domains to collaborate, a fact that seemed so backwards and still concerns me today. I believe it comes from a lack of awareness, communication, and reflection. There is a vital need for us to assume our role as teacher to be part of a whole — where every student is our student, and none are not our own. I hope to be part of this change.