Thoughts on Teaching


1. The goal: If the question, "When am I going to use this in my real life," derails your class, there's a problem with your purpose and goal. The truth is, almost nothing after taught 5th grade is knowledge used daily. The purpose of education is not to teach MLA formatting or how to factor a polynomial.

The goal is to develop a careful, thoughtful and resourceful young person that is adaptable, a problem solver and has perseverance. That's the destination. The particular subject serves as (1) the vehicle to arrive at the destination, and (2) an exploration into potential aptitude and interest, (3) as well as a foundation of reference knowledge.

2. Autonomy: When students understand they're in charge of education outcomes and find value and validation from their efforts, they'll perform.

In other words, when they do it for themselves and receive appropriate praise and feedback for progress, their potential and performance will increase.

3. Letting Go: Some kids aren't ready. I barely passed Algebra 1 as a freshman in fact, I'm sure that 60% final semester grade was rounded generously. Yet, I ended up with a BS in Math.

You, the teacher, cannot reach them all. Leave the door open, realize every misstep is a chance to teach them, but learning is done on their end, not ours.

If a kid fails, let them. Work with them to succeed, but hold firm to the standard. If you falter, and pass a student that didn't deserve it, the value of the accomplishments of other students will be discounted.

Why I'm sharing this is to color this short story:

The last three years I had 100% passing rate by all takers, not cherry picking, on IGCSE, around 10% passing rate in AZ. This year I'm pretty sure at least one student will fail. They earned the first F grade I have assigned in six years in that class.

That student just wasn't ready. At the end, the student came begging to get a passing grade. I explained to the student that while they were close to passing, to change their grade would be a grand would say that I did not believe they were capable of performing as well as their peers.

The next day the student approached me. I thought, ut oh, more grade grabbing negotiation...but to the student's credit, they just thanked me, said they're glad for the F and will do better in the future. No more crying, no hang-dog look...but instead a confidence because the student was capable and will be in the future. Perhaps now, the student is ready.

I don't want students to say, I only got through math because of you, Mr. Brown. That would make math the destination, not the vehicle. Best compliment a teacher can get is, you taught me to learn.

Wrongful Punishment was the Best Thing

When I was in 1st grade I suffered punished from a wrongful accusation, well, kind of.  And the punishment would land people in jail today.  In front of the entire 1st grade class I was spanked, but not spontaneously.  I was paraded to the front of the room and quite a spectacle was made of the ordeal.  Then I was sent to the principal’s office where I suffered a similar fate.  And at home, once again.

And while it is true, I did knock all of the lunch boxes off of the stand where they were stored, and they did spill open and they did make a big mess, it was an honest accident, no intent involved.  And I was very willing to clean all of it up, all of it!  The opportunity was not provided.  Instead, I bent over, knees straight, palms placed flat on a chair at the front of the room while the teacher drew back her arm, equipped with a wooden paddle, and brought it forward squarely on my six-year-old hind end, with all of my peers in audience.  Thrice over it happened.

It was spring and I had been spanked at school so frequently that my parents made a bargain for me, a bribe really.  If I could manage to not get spanked for an entire week then I could go out for ice cream on Friday.  And, being that it was spring, the local ice cream shop had my favorite ice cream in the whole world … peppermint ice cream!

Somehow I mustered the will-power to keep the tornado of energy that sprung forth from my body under wraps.  I sat properly, as instructed by the teacher.  And the teacher’s name, Mrs. Fortenberry, was pronounced clearly and accurately, all week.  I raised my hand at appropriate times, passed papers forward neatly and returned from recess with punctuality.  There was no cutting in line at lunch, no teasing other kids during class and the shenanigans that transpired when the teacher would turn around ceased to occur.

The staying power of six-year-olds is questionable, but I held this superb behavior through all of Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and half of Friday.  Upon returning from lunch on Friday I went to place my lunch box on the stand and it slipped.  I had not been goofing off, running around, just an honest accident.  But it was as if I threw a basketball at them, they toppled like dominos … to this day I marvel at the physics involved in knocking over all of those lunch boxes in such a fashion.  Entropy is sometimes spontaneous in the presence of six year old boys!

My protests of innocence might as well have been mute.

That evening my family went out for ice cream.  I’m sure there was plenty of the delicious peppermint ice cream eaten.  I wouldn’t know, though, because I was left home by myself.

And while this may sound tragic, I realized something from this experience. I had my first epiphany.  I realized that nobody believed me with just cause.  They should not have believed me, my reputation was well earned.

From this unjust punishment I realized the power of reputation.  I realized that if I wanted to be believed in uncertain circumstances, when light spilled over me in a questionable fashion, that I needed to have a reputation of being honest.  The only way to establish such a reputation was through being honest.

My behavior did improve after this.  Perhaps not getting the ice cream was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Sometimes the best lessons are hard earned.