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.)

The Value of Education


As a student and an educator, I have spent many years in tune with the cycles of the school year. The sunny spring days of late April and May always make me think about the current school year winding down. Elementary schools look forward to outdoor sporting events and field trips. Teachers accept that concepts not hammered in by this time probably won’t take hold.

The university session is already completed, and intercession and summer courses are anticipated. There will be a different tone to those courses – good weather does something to the higher reaches of academia. (A reflection that obviously pertains more to areas where foul weather is a distinct possibility – as in most of Canada – maybe it doesn’t play out in California!)

This time of the year will always have me thinking freedom while September inevitably brings thoughts of new beginnings.

I came across a couple of quotes related to education that I want to share.

Nelson Mandela wrote, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” I think Mandela would know what of what he speaks.

Here is a gem from the pen of Mary Jo Leddy – a Canadian writer, speaker, theologian and social activist. Leddy is widely recognized for her work with refugees at Toronto’s Romero House. “Education is about learning to hope. I invite you to anticipate this; that your education is for the sake of hope. It is meant to give hope to someone, somewhere, at some point in the future. Sometimes, somewhere, someone will ask you for a reason to hope. And then everything you have learned, every talent and skill you possess, all that you have become will be questioned and summoned forth. I know this will happen, at least once in your life.”

Marshall McLuhan, writes, “Is not the essence of education civil defense against media fallout.” McLuhan was a Canadian philosopher of communication theory; his work is viewed as one of the cornerstones of the study of media theory, as well as having practical applications in the advertising and television industries.

Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator, philosopher, and influential theorist of critical pedagogy, tells us that education can become, “. . . the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

The final word goes to Jean Vanier, a Canadian, Catholic, philosopher turned theologian, humanitarian, and founder of L’Arche, an international federation of group homes for people with developmental disabilities, who wrote that the purpose of education was to make people of peace.

Education as a means of change, education for the sake of hope, education as a means of defense against the almighty media voice that hums away below our conscious level of thinking, education for freedom and the transformation of the world, education to make people of peace.

I encourage all students and educators to reflect on the powerful role education has in our world; realize that each one of you is part of a strong wave of change that sweeps further and wider than you can ever imagine. By the very fact that you seek to know, to understand, to teach, and to learn, you are hope, defense, freedom, transformation, and peace. You are the change in the world that we all hope to see.


(The top photo was taken on a 2009 trip across the country to attend my son’s wedding in Ottawa. We were in south western Minnesota and had to stop and take photos of this old, abandoned school house. The whole building was full of pigeons. The bottom photo was taken at the Fort William historical site in Thunder Bay, Ontario.)