Sunday, August 12, 2012

One Love (Bob Marley)

July 27, 2012

So, what does it mean to be an effective teacher?

     Any good teacher worth their salt will tell you that teaching is about far more than delivering content.  Anyone can memorize, but can you motivate, inspire and help to develop a student's natural sense of curiosity?  Learning is an adventure, and as a teacher/guide we should be inviting our students to join us on that journey of discovery that will help them to figure out who they are and what their place is in the world.  However, that journey will not take place until two things happen.

     First, students need to feel safe to make mistakes.  Learning is messy and students need to feel like they can ask questions without being ridiculed by their teachers or classmates.  Therefore, the classroom needs to be a supportive zone where collaboration, inquiry and imagination are supported.  It is not just about getting the right answer, it is about the process.  How did they come up with the answer?  Do they understand?  Can the students explain it to someone else? This requires teachers to have a love of content,  the wisdom to know that we never stop learning, great intellect to make connections, and a tremendous amount of energy.  Teaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and if you burn out you don't help your students or yourself.

     Second, and this is the most important, you can't teach 'em til you reach 'em.  No significant learning will take place without a significant relationship.  If you think about the teachers in your life that have had an impact on you, it is probably because they saw you as a person, and not just as another student.  Maybe they helped you recognize your dreams, your talents, and your direction in life, and would not let you settle for ordinary when you were really extraordinary. Maybe they helped you to see something that you didn't see in yourself.  Maybe they were a life preserver just when you needed it.  As a teacher, this requires the ability to gauge learning styles, personality, motivation, and body language, not to mention you have to have a whole lot of heart.  It is about communication, your own personality, and having an understanding of the cultural and economic background that both you and your students come from.  You have to be willing to reach out and form a connection that will take time, energy, and often blood, sweat, and tears, knowing that in a few years you may never see these students again.  In order to do this, you have to love your kids, because you give a little piece of your heart to every one of them.  Teaching requires sincerity, honesty, patience, and love because sometimes while they are on their journey trying to figure out who they are and where they are going, they will work your last nerve.  But giving up is not an option because the alternative is too bleak.  What if you are the only one to make a connection and to see a student's gifts? 

     Sometimes, these students become a permanent part of your life, an extended family that remembers your birthday and call on holidays. I have been blessed to have several of these students throughout my career, but some of my most memorable belong to the Class of 2002.  I had only two years teaching experience when I got these students as freshmen, and I had them both in class and as their class advisor.  We spent four long years together getting through Homecoming, fundraisers, the Senior trip and Prom and to be truthful, we grew up together.  It broke my heart when they graduated, but I was so proud of the young ladies and gentlemen they had become.  One, Leslie Bailey, was my first student to become a history teacher.  The other, Yvette Hagins, was my class president and an amazingly creative and talented person, particularly when it comes to fashion. She has been responsible for choosing much of my wardrobe in the last year.  I like fashion and can put together an outfit, but when I have problems I go see Yvette. 

Yvette and Leslie

     About a year ago, Yvette's mom asked me to come to dinner for Yvette's birthday.  I was to be the surprise guest.  Thrilled, I said of course that I would go, but then Mom said that Yvette's fiance, David, would be there.  I growled a little and said that I was sure no one would ever be good enough for my Yvette.  Mom said, "Well, she wants your approval before she marries him."  It stopped me dead in my tracks.  Wow.  It was then that I fully realized the magnitude that a teacher can have on the life of a student.

The birthday dinner with David, Mom (Harriet), Yvette, and me

      I met David and he was wonderful, perfect for Yvette, and I was ecstatic that they found each other.  The wedding would be the day I returned from Space Camp, and I wouldn't miss it for the world.  I was determined that I would be there and nothing short of an Executive Order would keep me away.  I was prepared to leave Space Camp a day early, but I found a flight that left Huntsville, Alabama at 6:00am and should have put me back in Philadelphia in plenty of time.  Fingers crossed the weather would hold out.

 I made it home in plenty of time (two hours to spare) and had a wonderful time at the wedding. I cried the moment Yvette appeared to walk down the aisle. Tears of joy. I spent the evening laughing and dancing with the family and my plus one for the evening was another 2002 graduate, Hollee Tucker.  We had a great time catching up on everything and everyone.  How could ten years have passed since they graduated? How lucky am I to have them as a part of my life?

My plus one for the evening, former student Hollee Tucker. So nice catching up with her!

David and Yvette before they danced down the stairs!

I may not have given birth to her, but she is mine.

Loving the pink shoes.  On the bottom one said "I" and the other said "Do"

With Mom, welcomed as one of the family

The bride and groom, doing things their way!
     In all the talk about metrics and science of how to measure a good teacher, I would ask everyone to remember who the teacher was that had the most impact on their lives and why? We don't talk about the interpersonal and intrapersonal part of education these days. Measurements can tell us a lot about our students and our practice, but they can't teach us how to connect with a student, how to inspire them, motivate them and help them find their dreams. We don't talk enough about the art of education, the creativity and emotional intelligence that you need to reach and teach these kids. We need to talk more about bias, cultural relativity, and how good education leads to increased civic engagement and a sense of responsibility.  We are not just training people for jobs, we are educating them for life. 

1 comment:

  1. Amen Jersey! I will quote this often, I hope you don't mind. You are inspiring and today, you brought tears to my eyes. I am proud to know you.