The Teacher

Michael - Barrington, Rhode Island
Entered on November 19, 2011
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Despite our spectacular advances in technology these past few years, I believe that the best way we will prepare our students to be men and women of character will be with honest, patient, dedicated teachers.

Recently, I’ve read with interest how school districts and classrooms are using technology more effectively, seemingly expecting machines to inculcate children with the skills, behaviors, and habits that will prepare them for the challenges that they will face. To wit, Idaho now requires that high schools students take at least two credits online in order to graduate, and I suspect that the trend will be toward less connection among students and teachers and more interfaces between computers and students. That’s wrong: every memoir I’ve read features an adult who cared deeply for the writer, went out of his or her way to make sure that that person succeeded. Or, as Geoffrey Canada reminisces: “And I would have ended up dead or in jail like many of my friends if it had not been for a couple of teachers and family members who saw something underneath my teenage tough-guy act.” Adults, not machines, inspire children.

In September, our eighth grade students attempt an ascent of New Hampshire’s Mt. Monadnock. For our urban Providence students, the climb taxes their mind, body, and soul. All of the students, unfamiliar with the woods, struggled, but many summit. One boy, however, didn’t. Suffering from heat exhaustion, he sat nearly comatose a few hundred feet from the peak. I reached him on my descent and immediately called 911 for assistance. A colleague, the boy’s seventh-grade mathematics teacher, joined me, as we encouraged the rest of the class’ descending with the other faculty members. While we waited with the boy, I watched a teacher nurse, cajole, and care a boy back to health. We had to keep the boy awake, so his former teacher first quizzed him on the entire seventh grade mathematics curriculum, then asked him about every single friend the boy had made at school, then he queried about all his teachers during his Paul Cuffee career, engaging him in any way to keep him awake. We eventually, with assistance from strangers who saw our need, helped this boy descend, but the boy never would have made it without my colleague’s attention and love.

Leonard Sax, a noted author writes, “In every enduring culture, girls are led into womanhood by a community of adult woman; boys are led into manhood by a community of adult men. The mother and father play an important role…..But there is no enduring culture in which parents attempt this task alone.” Technology, used by confident, competent professionals, can improve our ability to convey ideas and assist struggling students; I’m no Luddite, as I’ve used computers effectively for the lion’s share of my 24-year teaching career. No computer, however, no matter how sophisticated, will ever be able to replace an adult connecting meaningfully with a child and sharing the magical, mysterious maturation process. This I believe.