Reenee Horowitz taught me my first lesson. It happened in my “first classroom,” my garage. Many adults thought I was “playing school,” but in my mind, I was really teaching. I still remember the look in Reenee’s eyes when she had that “a-ha” moment; she understood what I was teaching her. Sure, it was only Roman Numerals, not the most relevant of lessons, but that look led to me to one of my strongest beliefs. I believe learning is a series of “aha” moments when things begin to click and make sense. These moments don’t just happen magically; they occur after wrestling with an idea. That is when understanding is achieved and confidence is born.
During my first official year of teaching, Randy Crosby gave me my second lesson. He was a quiet seventh grader who didn’t participate in class discussion. One day, I decided to pull Randy into class discussion by asking him a factual question that I was sure he could answer. When Randy shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know the answer, I walked over to his desk and pointed to the notesheet that I just handed out. Quietly and gently I said, “It’s right here, Randy. Remember?”
He sat there, head down, staring at the paper. However someone near him whispered, “Miss Barber, Randy can’t read.”
Later when I told my principal about Randy, he just nodded and said, “Yeah. None of them Crosbys can read.”
Sadly, Randy taught me that the education system isn’t always about educating the students, but about labeling them and passing them on. I believe that individuals should be treated like individuals. I believe that each person has within him the ability to learn, but that only happens when care is given to individual needs. I believe there is no one right way to do this, but there is one wrong way…and that is ignoring the situation.
My third lesson came from Kevin Stickler. Kevin lived up to his name. He was a stickler for wanting to know the point value for each assignment. As long as he earned his points, he was happy. By most people’s standards, Kevin was considered an excellent student.
However, Kevin’s quest for the most points possible, made me aware of how many students were just concerned with the grade rather than what they learned. When given the opportunity to revise an assignment by taking it to the next level, many students were satisfied if they earned enough points. This attitude frustrated me. I believe that learning is not a bucket of points. Learning is a desire to know more, to improve one’s skills, to create and revise. Learning is a process that doesn’t stop when an assignment is completed or a certain grade is achieved.
I have been teaching for 35 years. When most of my peers are thinking about retirement, I am still learning about learning. Thanks to Renee, Randy, and Kevin—my beliefs shape what I strive to do each day.
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