Your Teachers Are Many Things

Brief remarks that my supervisors asked me to deliver to students at a local junior high school on the morning of Nov 26th—national Teachers’ Day in Indonesia.

Today is Teachers’ Day in Indonesia. So this morning, I have been asked to say something to you about your teachers and who they are.

Your teachers are many things. They are people who have to get up in the morning and get dressed and boil themselves an egg before they go to school. They are working people who must earn a living and do something productive with their day. Like you, they wear uniforms and follow routines and move in groups. Even so, they are as different from each other as you are from your friends.

We Americans are clearly very different from your Indonesian teachers. But our presence is also a reminder of what all teachers have in common: skills and wisdom worth sharing. Working together, across culture, will feel new and surprising to Americans and Indonesians alike. This feeling of newness proves that we are learning from each other. It reminds us that at bottom, a teacher is somebody or something that challenges us to grow.

What distinguishes your egg-boiling, uniform-wearing, officially-employed teachers from anything else that challenges you? Again, it is simply the fact that we are flesh-and-blood people who have had more life experience than you. What does that mean? It does not mean that we are smarter or better than you. It certainly means that we have made more mistakes and experienced more failures. And it likely means that we have had more time to practice the skills needed for a happy, meaningful life.

A textbook or a robot can tell you the right answer to a question that has a right answer. But neither can show you what it is like to be alive or advise you on how to live a better life. Only people can do that. And some of those people we call teachers.

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