I remember as a child all the many episodes of school that I played with my cousins on the weekends at our grandparent’s house. Of course, the first thing to be settled was who got to be the teacher and who had to play the part of the students. Tests would be made from information never actually taught and delight was always had by the teacher as he marked the answers that were incorrect. I am not sure if we actually derived more pleasure from the fact that we got to play the teacher or the fact that we just really enjoyed marking papers wrong and telling the cousin that always told on us that he had failed, again.
Today, the game is real, and I no longer relish the opportunity to mark every answer wrong. There are no cousins sitting in the floor, and my grandmother has long ago ceased to be my principal. No, today I strive for every student to learn and thrive and grow as an individual. I believe that the most important lesson I can teach my students does not come from any textbook or Benchmark review exercise or elaborate lesson on the five paragraph essay. I believe that the most important lesson I can teach my students is to trust that they can achieve more than they realize at this moment. In other words, I want them to think beyond the mp3 players and cell phones and lunch room gossip. I want them to learn the art of independent thinking and to understand what it can do for them. I want each of them to realize that an education is the sum total of all their experiences, and that those experiences are shaped and enhanced through the lessons that educators provide them.
This ongoing devotion that I have to this philosophy is, at times, idealistic and challenging, frustrating and perplexing, but I cannot give up on the notion that if I repeat myself enough, and I sit in a circle with them to begin a discussion enough, and I shout words of encouragement enough, that little by little, they will begin to understand. They will begin to understand that, while hard work is required, learning is worthwhile.
Each year that I have been a teacher, in the classroom – not in my grandparent’s living room, I have found myself searching for answers to the educational issues that face our students. In my struggle to find the best way to present a lesson or the best way to test for comprehension, I have learned that a teacher will never be able to get it perfectly right, because the target audience changes everyday, every year. Not only do the students change as a collective group, but each individual experiences a metamorphosis of his own; the outcome of which is not always predictable or pleasant. This epiphany, while not unique to my experiences in any way, has allowed me to release some of the pressure I had been placing on myself early on to be perfect and to begin to teach to the needs of my students as they present themselves to me.
So, it no longer matters that we read every short story in the book, or four classic works of literature, or … (you know the laundry list). What is important is that each student takes something home with them at the end of the day. I believe what is important is that each student gets it, whatever it is, and owns it and grows as a result of having experienced it.
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