I am a teacher. I have been teaching for more than thirty years in every grade, K through 12, at one time or another. I have seen all types of students in schools in the United States and in international schools abroad. I have seen trends come and go like the winds. And while trends may come and go, I believe there are certain basic truths about the education of youngsters that do not and must not change.
First and foremost, it is the teacher who matters most in a student’s education. The communication between student and teacher is what determines whether learning will take place. The bonding, compassion, affection, hard work, and sometimes excruciating effort that take place between a teacher and her classes are what matter. The books, pencils, computers, etc. are just tools in the toolbox. In fact, some the best teachers I’ve met have taught in third world countries, in poverty-stricken schools that do not have supplies of any kind, or even a roof!
Second, I have come to realize that children learn a lot passively. They also mimic what they see and hear. Therefore, they must experience kindness, civility, fairness, and attitudes that show a love of learning in order for them to behave well and to value education.
Furthermore, children need to observe and experience the basic tenets of civility that apply to all people, regardless of their religious or cultural background. These values, whether they stem from theological or secular origins, are common to the human race. The late Gray Mattern, former Executive Secretary of the European Council of International Schools, articulated them as follows:
First, telling the truth. This value is essential to the conduct of human affairs on the entire planet. It is the heart of mathematics. There can be no science without it.
Next, is respect for the rights of others. From such respect proceeds the curbs of law and order on theft, bodily harm, and individual and corporate violence. This fundamental principle is as essential on the playground as in the affairs of nations.
Third is the validity of promises and contracts. This includes promises between individuals, such as teacher and student, as well as treaties among nations.
Finally, I believe that children must gain some satisfaction from learning, and not see education as merely passing a battery of tests. In the end, they must realize that they are responsible for their own learning, and that is an ongoing process throughout life.
A Chinese proverb states, “Teachers open the door, but the students must walk through alone.” Good teachers know this. Successful students must come to realize it.
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