This I Believe
The more experienced and astute I become as a teacher, and the more successful and prepared my students, the less sure I am that it is my students’ academic prowess I prize.
Eight years ago as a career-changing teacher, I hit the classroom with high expectations. I knew what the real world needed. Better writers. Better thinkers. Better communicators. A former copywriter, my classroom coaching was filled with instant quips. Reluctant learners got no sympathy from me. “Something sounds distinctively like…whining,” I’d say. Or, “Someone needs an all-star attitude adjustment.” Clever? I thought so. Effective. Who knows. More importantly, had I shown my students that I cared who they were inside? I had to say no.
The author of The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, wrote, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” What is now most important to me is that I teach from the heart, where I discover the true essence of my students. Sadly, a focus on character can be at odds with how even my nine-year-olds value themselves. Take one student, the first at his desk every day, practically bouncing up and down to get his hands on the latest science lab. Curious to the core. Such passion and possibility! For four years defined by himself as stupid, defined by his dad as a terrible speller. It makes me worry. Have I ever played a part in devaluing children’s innate qualities in the zeal to turn out children with more market value?
By now I hope my students know what matters most in my classroom: when a boy tells me he blew it on homework turn-in, or a girl cries when a crayfish dies. At the end of every day, we take 15 precious minutes for Caring Community. This is the kids’ chance to celebrate who they are — to acknowledge each other’s acts of character. To someone who paid a compliment to their work–APPRECIATION, or who deferred to them in line — RESPECT, or who played with them at recess– ACCEPTANCE. Suddenly the bell curve of student achievement rings hollow. And I get that giddy glimmer of hope that someday, that one boy wearing the broadest grin on his face will truly believe in himself. And that will be when the world receives a great gift.
I believe I need to keep seeing with my heart, finding that part of the child that is so pure and real. There I can promote the passion and integrity that wears the greatest price tag. At the end of the school year, I prepare for my parents a “snapshot” of their child, with scores and levels in key subject areas, comparative data, triple checked. To the child, though, I enclose a photo album that captures the real world of our classroom. At the back, I write a letter in which I try to convey what I love about that child. What I love inside. That is when I cry my good-byes and whisper good luck.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.