Gatekeepers and Gateways

I read a blog post yesterday morning on – Whisks & Words: A blog about a writer who cooks  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 (images were my choice):

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. So much so, I couldn’t get it off my mind. If I was to try to come up with one word to describe my up and down career, I would use the word educator. When I taught undergrad courses we were told that a definition of our philosophy of teaching was a good thing to include in our CV. It was an excellent exercise in getting down to the nuts and bolts of why I would stand in a classroom and think I could make a difference (on a good day), or even have 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 Paolo Freire, who stresses that a teacher must enter into a partnership with students. Students are not empty bank accounts into which I deposit my knowledge – in partnership 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’ve always tried to be a gateway teacher. That’s what motivated me – that’s what made it possible for an introvert like myself to stand in front of a classroom of students for three hours – it was going to be a collaborative, shared learning experience or it wasn’t going to be at all.

Going further back in time – 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.

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 think that a lot of people, after reading the earlier versions of Disappearing in Plain Sight, would have thrown their hands up in hopelessness at my idea of ever being a published author. They would have said – look, Fran – don’t quit your day job – assuming of course I had a day job. But she did not do anything like that – instead she kept encouraging me through each draft – through each round of edits – she found what could be complimented in my writing and she 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.

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.