Educate is to immerse of meaning everything we do (Paulo Freire)
On the evening of the 19th June, teacher educators and primary teachers gathered in Parramatta, in the heart of Western Sydney, to celebrate the career achievements of a teacher educator legend: Phil Nanlohy, one of the most generous academics to have ever worked in the School of Education at Western Sydney University.
Phil had chosen that day for his retirement festivities because it marked his 10,000th working day at the University. He was happy and thankful that he could stay for more than 27 years in the same work place: happy as he made so many great friends; and thankful because over all these years he was able to make an intensive and in-depth commitment to his passion for education.
Both retirees and current teacher educators, along with other teachers who were present at that celebration, were unanimous in recognising that Phil’s positive impact in primary education in New South Wales goes far beyond the university’s lecture theatres. His legacy can be seen in the lives of thousands of university students, whom he has supported to achieve their goals and to become current teachers across Western Sydney. Phil has been the role model of so many teachers who learned with him to be better educators in their everyday teaching practices.
This is one of Phil’s important lessons: that teachers are never ‘ready to teach’; that we all learn while teaching, but this learning only comes if teachers have the chance to permanently self-reflect on their practices and their pedagogies. Paulo Freire, the greatest educator, philosopher and social activist, would say that “nobody starts to be an educator on Tuesday at 4 pm; nobody is born as an educator, or even defined as an educator. We become educators, permanently, in practice and reflecting on our practice”. Accordingly, Phil has fought so many good pedagogical fights to support students to create practical and insightful tools that would help them to increase their self-reflective skills, augmenting their capacity to implement their teaching philosophies with their own students, and becoming better teachers.
All testimonies on that festive night were about how Phil had always put his students’ needs in front of his own necessities: his mission was to help his students to find their ways through the sometimes daunting academic context. So many of his students were the first in their families to ever go to a university; many times they did not have either the cultural support or the knowledge about what the academic life requirements were. So, Phil was always there to help them to solve their problems.
Phil’s “proud sons of a teacher” gave evidence of the many evenings and numerous weekends that he spent on preparing materials for his students. This careful planning had the aim of delivering authentic learning experiences to his students, as Phil firmly believes that every lesson should be immersed with social and cultural meaning, so his passion for education would flow to students as they make their way to their emancipation as educators and citizens. For Phil, this passion was clearly a two-way route: as student-teachers embedded themselves with the hunger for teaching, they simultaneously nurtured Phil’s own desire to keep looking for ways to be a better teacher-educator himself.
Phil’s enthusiasm for his shared practices with his students was visible. More than visible, one could feel this enthusiasm rolling along the campus’ corridors and teaching spaces. Phil was relentlessly looking for better ways to improve his communication with his students.
This is another valuable lesson of Phil’s pedagogies. He was always in a dialogical relationship with the students; in a Freirean sense, that means to be in the students’ world AND with the students’ world. According to Freire, it is in the dialogical process that teachers develop their critical consciousness about the world they and their students inhabit. Dialogue is an essential tool for teachers to become educators.
In a historical period when neoliberalism and individualism pervade our daily lives, seemingly aiming to destroy the bonds that ties us as communal beings; in these precarious times when intolerant political ideas have strongly emerged within our societies, Phil’s unselfishness teaches us that dialogue is one of the most important tools that educators can use to increase their students’ social conscience towards a fairer society.
Phil’s lessons, though, go beyond that. His generosity towards his students and colleagues were a true lesson of love. Love that, according to Paulo Freire, it is both the foundation of the dialogical process as “the dialogical process itself”. Love for the world and for human beings. Love and dialogue, not manipulation or paternalism. Love as an act of freedom that generates new acts of freedom.
Phil’s lessons of love towards his work, his students and the world will remain with all of us, his colleagues and former students. The 10,000 days owe which he disseminated his love for the teaching profession will certainly generate many other thousands of days of dialogue and love for education.
However, we will miss him and his generosity on a daily basis. Phil’s words during his celebrations showed that he is a truly Freirean educator. Very humbly, he said that all “these years have been gift. The friendships and the support given to me have let me work as the teacher I wanted to be. Thank you all for what you have allowed me to do”.
Phil’s Educator shoes will be very hard to fill.
Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.