Monday, May 18, 2009

When is an aweful teacher wonderful?

Jesse stood in front of the morning news camera reading his research on our Solar System. He had illustrated all of the planets and even some asteroids.
Jesse is the kind of student every teacher dreams of. He has a fine mind which is coupled with a supportive family and enough personal discipline to insure that he can process the information he readily seeks out.
He was on my mind that evening as I looked for colored sidewalk chalk for our Field Day. As I walked down the aisle of school supply store, I passed a display of plastic colorform planets designed to be placed on the wall of a classroom. I couldn't help myself.....I bought them planning to give them to Jesse.

When I got back to school the next day, I realized I had another gift for him. I had purchased a telescope at the Goodwill store for only $5.00. A small refractor, it was far better than Galileo's scope. With it he should be able to see the four largest moons of Jupiter, the rings on Saturn, and fantastic close-ups or the moon's surface.

His parents were at school for field day to receive these gifts with Jesse and all were happy at the joy of such small gifts. But the greatest gift was the one presented me when his mother said, "Do you know when he got interested in all this?" "No," I responded. "It was when you had that fellow come from the Astronomical Society." she said.

I laughed out loud. You see, the very nice man who was an amateur astronomer, a NASA certified instructor, had been way over the heads of my students. I had been embarrassed because much of the material he presented and the questions he asked were beyond the reasoning capacity of early elementary students. The length of the presentation which went long frustrating the teachers in attendance.
Here in front of me was a young mind that had been deeply affected by a presentation that I had written off. It is a great lesson. We cannot judge the influence of each day on our students. One small thing that we do may have a deep and lasting impact for good or ill. I pray that even on my worst days when I am at my most boring, a few seeds of that lesson will fall on fertile Jesse's.

It is also a lesson of humility, to recognize that while good teaching is important, learning is often not about the quality of teaching. Often the quality of education depends on the desire of the learner. So in a day when "teacher quality" is considered the most important indicator of student achievement, perhaps we need to rethink the complexity and art of the learning interaction.

No comments: