As the school year gets underway and teachers scramble to decorate bulletin boards and enliven lesson plans, here’s an idea that might spin their heads: the most important job teachers have is to make themselves obsolete.
So says Daniel Meyer, former history teacher and principal, who learned that lesson the hard way.
Like many young people, Daniel finished his education having learned a lot, but not how to find his place in the world. He had a solid inner core and a deep desire to affect the world in a positive way but didn’t know where to begin. That led to a troubled period of self-destructive behavior.
“I needed an outlet--a healthy and sustainable one–for dealing with the world as it is, without compromising what it might yet become.”
As a new teacher, he faced a classroom of high school students looking to him for answers…but what he had were his own nagging questions.
He struggled through a dark period until he reached a moment of enlightenment. He realized there was a purpose to his inner turmoil; he could channel it in a positive direction. He would find a way to help young people identify and develop their potential and recognize the power they have to affect their world NOW. His mantra was, in effect, ‘ Why wait?’
In 2011, Daniel founded The Under a Tree Fund to help high school students take the leap from thinking to doing, something Daniel admits he didn’t always do himself.
The Under A Tree Fund provides college scholarships to high school civic leaders and social change agents who complete its 38-week Ethical Citizens Fellowship. By developing their skills and investing in their future educations, they seek to reclaim and redefine the meaning of leadership and cultivate a new generation of conscientious citizens who are compassionate, accountable, and unrelenting in their pursuit of justice.
Daniel is part of the Hearts on Fire’s Skype in the Classroom Speaker Initiative designed to expand the horizons of students nationwide. Teachers can bring inspiring speakers like Daniel and innovative online content directly into the classroom.
Hearts on Fire Classroom Speakers are chosen because they have compelling stories to tell about the events and influences that shaped them from childhood, about what inspired them to become involved in social change, and the challenges they had to overcome along the way.
Speakers introduce students to other worlds and exciting new possibilities, firing up their natural curiosity and showing them the impact just one person can have on the world. And that is what makes the job of teaching so important and potentially transformative. Teachers can be the conduit between boredom and inspiration, between indifference and engagement, between lethargy and leadership.
The Classroom Speaker Initiative is part of Hearts on Fire's Educational Initiative, launched in 2016 in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves and Skype in the Classroom, to inspire students ages 10-24, to become critical, engaged, and active citizens who choose to #BetheSpark in their own communities. Daniel wishes he had had that guidance.
“I want schools to be crucibles of student empowerment, of lifelong learning, of a certain kind of… transformational spirit; the sense of one’s own power, the sense of what’s possible, but also the crucible for how much more we can accomplish when we build alliances and partnerships...and start to create networks across the world where those people who are fighting for justice and to make a difference don’t feel so isolated and alone.”
As they face a new class this year, teachers themselves can #BetheSpark by using valuable tools like the Hearts on Fire Classroom Speaker Initiative to kindle curiosity about the world in their students and empower them to be agents of change at home or far from their own backyards.