Teaching the Whole Student

Assistant Director, Head Teacher, Christian Educators Academy

Jul   2015



So you want to be a teacher. Or maybe you think you want to be a teacher, but you’re not really sure. I get that.

I absolutely understand feeling hesitant, despite the fact that in many ways, teaching has felt like what I was born to do. It’s certainly something I’ve wanted to do since I was in high school. Yet there was a period of time in college where I was really at a crossroads. Part of me wanted to be in a classroom, but part of me also thought about counseling teenagers. Didn’t I care about their hearts as well as their brains? There were a few years where I almost walked away from the idea of teaching entirely. I wanted to be a part of a school, but just not necessarily in the classroom—or so I thought.

Then I graduated in 2008, right when the economy was in shambles. Job opportunities were incredibly limited and it seemed like everybody wanted five to seven years of teaching experience in addition to a degree. I had this grand dream that I’d work in a college doing something with students that wasn’t in a formal classroom, but none of that panned out. Through a series of events, I ended up in the classroom anyway, teaching middle school math at a small private school specifically.

There, I found everything that I had been looking for.

I think I had this narrow idea about teaching before—that teaching your subject was the only thing that really mattered. I loved math, but it wasn’t the only thing I loved, I worried that there wouldn’t be room for me to incorporate all of my other passions. So I was pleasantly surprised when I found that teaching involves so much more than that.

In a classroom of middle schoolers, I found myself filling many roles all at once: educator, entertainer, counselor, mentor, and role model. Of course, you need to start with a love and passion for your subject, with a desire to help students learn and develop their minds. You are the one passing down important knowledge to the next generation, often to students who are burned out from school and don’t see the point of learning what you have to teach. They might even find your subject so difficult that it feels impossible to teach. But that’s exactly why you must aspire to be kind of teacher who makes the subject come alive. Learning is still hard work, but when students understand the subject’s importance, when they are fully engaged, it seems worth it. That’s the type of teacher I want to be. Engaged and passionate learners are the kinds of students I want to create.

But, of course, teaching doesn’t end with the subject matter either. Students aren’t just a room full of minds; they’re also hearts, bodies, and souls. And they bring all of themselves into the classroom. Think about it: everyone experiences different kinds of “bad days,” from emotionally bad days (maybe they had a fight with their parents the night before) to physically bad days (they might be exhausted after a long night of studying or insomnia). As a teacher I too am a mind, heart, body, and soul, and all of those aspects of me come into play when teaching my students.

Knowing that I need to think of my students as whole persons helps me to be a more effective teacher. It reminds me that a struggling student might be dealing with a host of things at home, in the hallways, and even within their own selves that need to be acknowledged before they can even think about factoring polynomials. It reminds me that my classroom is a community of people, and that I need to be mindful of that when creating a seating chart or setting up groups for a project. It reminds me that the moments when I talk about an integrity or character issue, or where I listen to a student telling me about their day or their hobbies or friend drama, those are all important parts of teaching too.

This might sound taxing, but, honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As a college student, I sometimes worried about just settling on “one thing” in my career or free time, mostly because I hated the thought of saying no to so many other things that I loved. I worried about losing aspects of myself, leaving them to become anemic and atrophied from lack of use. More and more, though, I find that teaching is the type of profession that really engages every part of me. It stimulates my mind, tugs on my heart, feeds my soul, and even stretches my body—standing all day and walking up and down several flights of stairs between classes is more of a workout than you’d think! And I hope that my students are able to say the same, that in my classroom they are treated like the diverse, multifaceted beings that they are.

So you want to be a teacher. That’s great! I hope that you’ll find ways to bring all of your diverse experiences and interests into the classroom with you. Bring your whole self, and remember to appreciate the whole of your students as well.

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About Amy Gentile

Amy Gentile is currently the Assistant Director and Head Teacher at Christian Educators Academy, an online private school with students from all over the country. The small size of the school allows her to “wear many hats” and exercise her diverse set of passions and skills. She graduated in 2013 with her M.A. in Higher Education from Geneva College and in 2008 with her B.S. in Mathematics from Gordon College. In her free time, you might find Amy taking a course from Coursera or EdX just for fun, reading something from her ever-growing list of interesting books, or simply having good conversations with friends.