I find that my students give me a lot to think about. This week I had the opportunity to attend an "Open Mic" session at the technical college where I teach. Ten or twelve people read for a group of about twice that many. As I listened, these students taught me a lesson I have learned many times: never underestimate the brains and talent of your students.
Teachers, and no doubt others who work with kids, find it easy to attribute failure to a younger person's lack of gumption. I like that word. Gumption, to me, alludes to willingness, initiative and courage.
My colleagues and I have bemoaned the diminishing quality of education when I have felt work had to be "dumbed down." Instructors have an excuse, of course. Students play their part when they offer a variety of silly excuses students often give for their work being late. You know, like three grandmas' funerals in a single semester or telling you his computer crashed in an e-mail. Lumping them all into that category is way too easy. The perceived laziness or self-serving attitudes of the new generation lets us off the hook for searching out better ways to teach the material.
Not all the students who read poems yesterday were enamored of the process. There were a couple, however, whose eyes lit with energy as they read. They cared if the rest of us liked their work. Teachers can content themselves with motivating even a single student in a class of twenty-five; the trouble is, he or she can never know which student might care about the instructor's opinion. In my first year of teaching I had a high school student so quiet I noticed little about her besides the fact that she was a beautiful girl. After the school year, when I moved on to another state, she tracked me down to thank me for being such a good teacher and for interesting her in French. I learned this lesson way back then. Undervaluing a student by rolling my eyes at a comment or ignoring his progress can easily crush the very enthusiasm you want to nurture. And yesterday it all came back to me through the nervous giggles and rhyming verse.
So, my hat's off to the creative writing teacher, Lane Hudson, who organized and hosted the event. His students taught him well.