Gatekeeper or Gateway–What Kind of an Educator Are You?

Closed Gate - Google images

I read a blog post awhile back now on, Whisks & Words. The blogger is writing about her experience of two different types of educators – the gatekeepers and the gateways. This is a bit of what appeared in the post:

Gate-keepers make it hard for students to succeed . . . Their reasons are varied, but their mission is clear: none shall enter without my permission. Want my permission? A lot of people do. And a lot of people get disappointed. But gateways… they’re different. Gateways see success not so much as a fortress to be guarded but as a destination to be gotten to. And they can help you get there.

The idea of educators as gatekeepers or gateways resonated with me. If I was to come up with one word to describe my varied career endeavours, it would be the word educator.

When I taught undergrad courses I was required to define my philosophy of teaching for my CV. Doing this was an excellent exercise in getting down to the nuts and bolts of why I thought I could stand in front of a classroom full of students and imagine what I had to say mattered (on a good day), or that I even had any right to say anything at all (on an average day).

Here is a small excerpt from how I defined my philosophy of teaching

My approach to teaching is grounded in a strong emphasis on narrative. When students focus on story – their own and other’s – I believe the opportunity for depth learning is present. I have been influenced by the work of Paulo Freire and the stress he places on entering into a partnership with students. Students are not empty bank accounts into which I deposit my knowledge. It is only in partnership that we create meaning. I learn as much from students as they learn from me. Authentic thinking will take place in a climate of trust. I work hard to create this climate. I strongly believe in a model of ongoing and cascading mentorship across various levels of learning and expertise. I put this concept into practice in all my work with students. I also enact this philosophy in my openness to collaboration with other instructors and the sharing of teaching resources and ideas.

I’ve always tried to be a gateway teacher. It is the idea of acting as a gateway to learning that has made it possible for an introvert like myself to stand in front of a classroom of students for three hours. Believe me, it was going to be a collaborative, shared learning experience or it wasn’t going to be at all.

Where did this philosophy and commitment come from? I was fortunate, at an early stage in the formation of my educator identity, to be exposed to a certain model of teaching. We sat in a circle, we shared our own story, we listened to other people’s stories, we were helped to connect the concepts we were trying to grasp to our own life experience. This model was drawn from the basics of liberation theology. These experiences of learning were life altering.

Open Gate - Google images

Like so many of us, I’ve had both types of teachers – those who held me back and those who gave me wings. Last night I sent an email to a very dear friend. I explained the concept of gatekeeper and gateway educators. I told her how she had always been a gateway for me. I told her that I am surprised now, that after she had read earlier versions of Disappearing in Plain Sight, she hadn’t just thrown her hands up in hopelessness at my idea of ever being a published author. I’m amazed she didn’t say, “Look, Fran, don’t quit your day job.” Assuming of course I had a day job. But she didn’t do anything like that. She encouraged me through each draft and every attempt I made to improve and strengthen my writing. Through each round of edits, this dear friend found what could be complimented in my writing and gently pointed out what needed to be changed. In every way she sent the message – keep at it, don’t give up, you can do this. I am in awe of this woman and I hope she got that message when she read my meandering email.

Miranda Bailley - Google Images


So – each one, teach one – I got that line from Miranda Bailey in Gray’s Anatomy. If you’ve had a gateway teacher in your life then go out and emulate that experience. Together we’ll squeeze all the gatekeepers right out of education.


(This is another in my series of resurrected posts from the past. Still needed editing – oh woe is me – but not as much as the last one. We live and learn.)

13 comments on “Gatekeeper or Gateway–What Kind of an Educator Are You?

  1. ksbeth says:

    like you, i have always tried to be a gateway teacher. great post )beth

    • It just always made sense to me to teach in this way – opening up a wide array of options for students rather than slamming doors on people. My husband read my post and said – no one is likely to read this and identify as a gatekeeper. Well, maybe not. But the point is to make a statement about what education can be.

  2. Gwen Stephens says:

    Perhaps a career in editing would be the ideal marriage of your education and writing backgrounds.

    • I wish 🙂 When I don’t lean on my editor like a one-legged woman who broke her only good leg, I’ll think about it. LOL. But thanks for the vote of confidence, Gwen.

  3. cherylreaume says:

    Fran I too gave a copy of a children’s book I wrote to our dear friend. It was returned to me with positive comments. I read it years later and I realized that I am not a writer but a quilter. I will stick to my quilting.

    • Leaving doors wide open let’s people reach their own conclusions – right? And yippee for great quilters 🙂 Where would we writers be without our beautifully quilted book bags?

  4. jackiemallon says:

    I like your thinking. I have also been lucky to have gateway teachers and I’m not only referring to the profession of education but those people in your career who have just known how to inspire. My first creative director comes to mind.

    • Good point, Jackie, about career mentors – people we meet along the way of developing our career selves can definitely be gateways or gatekeepers. I recall the people who stood on both sides of the gate – opening it or trying to slam it shut. There does seem to be an age old debate around professional standards and hey, who doesn’t want certain standards to be upheld? But I think this type of argument can often be a thinly veiled attempt to hunker down and simply keep others out, a means of holding onto some type of exclusivity = power thinking. Yippee for those mentors who don’t feel the need of such ego bolstering.

  5. Behind the Story says:

    Gateways and gatekeepers are excellent symbols of two styles relating to each other as teachers and friends. Like you, I’ve been blessed to have supportive friends who read early drafts of my book. They encouraged me and gave suggestions for improvement, and I try to do the same with the members of my critique group. It’s not always easy.

    • You are right on the point about it not being easy – a gateway teacher or friend is not about being Little Miss (or Mr.) Sunshine all the time. When a peer, a friend, or a colleague asks for feedback we are obliged to give our honest opinion. But here is where the gateway people shine – in their ability to couch that feedback in such a way that the honest messages come through without discouraging, belittling, shaming or stomping on the other. They make it possible for people to learn, improve, succeed and at time, to move onto something else they are better suited for. Definitely not an easy row to hoe.

  6. P. C. Zick says:

    I’ve had them both. I left teaching high school students when I felt I might become one of those gate-keepers simply from burn out.

    • My brother-in-law had a similar feeling – he said he wanted out before he found himself not being the teacher he knew he was – teaching takes a toll for sure.

      • P. C. Zick says:

        Thank goodness I left before my students noticed. That was always the plan and I’ve never regretted. Yet every time a young person tells me the want to be a teacher, I encourage them. Some people are meant to be teachers and we should treat them and pay them accordingly for the most important job in the world. I don’t know how it is in Canada, but here in the States our teachers are woefully underpaid.

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