Friday, March 21, 2008

Who Was Your Favorite K-12 Teacher?

At heart, as I suspect you already know, I stand with the philosophy of Dewey, Piaget and the progressives, in that I believe good teaching and learning happens when kids are engaged in what they are doing. I also accept the fact that their development and talents are going to be all over the map. The art of teaching is to find that "hook" that gets them excited and motivated . . . beyond just the usual carrots and sticks. Now this isn't always easy to do, but I think teachers should have the freedom to make that possible.

Teaching is a very personal thing. We all approach life differently. Back in 1960, when I was in 7th grade in the Rumford community, my teacher was Peter Mckenna, and let me tell you, he made more of a difference in my life than any test or assessment I ever took. He knew what engagement was all about and could even make diagramming sentences pure joy. Mr. McKenna read Edgar Allen Poe stories and Jack
and Kafka's Metamorphosis, having us begging for more. We made litmus paper out of math paper and canned blueberry juice for the red strips and dipped it into the restroom liquid soap to make the blue strips. We did goofy skits and pondered philosophical questions and operated on fractions, all artfully choreographed by this teacher. Simple enough stuff, but he made it all magical. Do you believe in Magic? ;) I'm sure we all can think back to a teacher, or perhaps many, who connected with us and made learning so exciting that we were motivated to investigate even more without any thought of extrinsic rewards. Any stories?

At the same time, a teacher needs to be a pragmatist to survive. There is a lot on the plate and compromise and ingenuity are necessary if the institution is to work. It certainly is reasonable for someone with this workload to become a bit surly when being told how to do his job when he is in the middle of running helter-skelter spinning the plates.

In my 32 years as an elementary classroom teacher, I wasn't always successful in making these connections with students, but I did have the freedom to try . . . and on occasion hit the mark. At the risk of being labeled a reactionary, YES, I do want teachers to continue to have that prerogative. If we lose respect for that, then I worry for the future of public education. Top-down edicts, poorly thought out and implemented by people who are not closely connected to the local community and the classroom, is not the answer.

Which K-12 teacher(s) made a big difference in your life ?

Check out a post on Dangerously Irrelevant titled "Creativity Fatigue: Is it really possible to stop learning?"

BTW, if you want to know what life is like growing up in a Maine papermill town, check out Monica Wood's Ernie's Ark. :)

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