Sitting right in front of me happen to be 27 young adult faces. They wonder who I am. I wonder who they are. They have the capacity to instruct me, and I am the one who has the license and authority to teach them. In this environment credentials do not mean much– at least the credentials do not mean much to them. Their opinions of me are more important than my credentials. I know that. The first chance they get, they are going to find out how real I am.
Most of them are looking at me with out expression. Some are looking at their hands or at the scribbles and etchings on the desks. They all listen as I talk. They are wondering what kind of person I am. The questions are not academic. They are human questions: Can I trust you? Will you deal with me straight-up? Do you listen, or do you just talk? Should I tell you who I am? Do you have an open mind? Some of the questions are more personal: Have you ever used any dope? Have you ever been abused? Have you ever hurt a kid? Is there any love in your home? There are vibrations in their eyes and under their skin. Some of them do not read at grade level, but they are genius at reading people. Kids live in a nakedly honest world.
All students can all learn. They sort out images in quantities unprecedented in the history of the civilized world. When educators claim that students cannot learn, they reveal their own inadequacies more than they reveal any hidden or apparent truth. They claim students cannot learn to excuse themselves.
One of my students wrote that she believes the little things in life give us the most pleasure, like when we watch our kids get off the bus. In my response to her essay, I teased her about the last time she watched her kids get off the bus. She is sixteen, by the way. As she handed in the revised essay, I apologized for the comment. She said, “ No problem. I call my little brothers ‘my kids’ because they spend more time with me than they do our mother. My parents are divorced.”
I was a little ashamed of myself, so I said, “Did I ever tell you that when I was your age I had to stand in line at the grocery store if I wanted to see my mother? She worked all the time, too.”
I can relate to the attitudes kids bring to school. Their lives are honed by concerns far more fundamental than the trivial offerings we drag back and forth to school in our soft side bags. I know from my life experience that unless family life is solid, higher order thought and reflection on profound academic problems becomes a low-level priority. Meaningful relationships with teachers lead to successful learning experiences.
Successful teachers have intangible skills reaching far beyond credentials.
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