Friday, March 26, 2010

Relearning my lessons

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.

1 comment:

Angie Eaton said...

Connie, my heart thumped wildly as I read your last blog. I can think of several reasons as to why but they all fall under the heading of a love for teaching. It is so exciting to have students that are interested in the topic being taught already. IT opens up the door to carry them much farther! However, I find it far more exciting to teach a student(s) who is not interested, feels inadequate to learn or is intimidated by the other students and hides in silence. I once read a book, "Helping Everyone To Meet Their Potiential" by Jack Hyles. Its message lit a spark in me that carried over into every relm of my life, especially teaching. The dumbing down of students seems to be a hard pill to swallow for most of my teacher friends and is a big reason I chose to homeschool. While I did teach in a brick and morter classroom, it was hard for me to watch other teachers, as you say, roll their eyes or impatiently speak to students. Although I am a firm believer in tough love and setting bar high, I want to always try to balance that by taking into consideration the issues people dealth with in life that may be defeating them. I learned this lesson hard with my daughter who was struggling with a learning disability that we hadn't really noticed until the fourth grade. She was trying to do something that was not within her ability to do the way we were "expecting" her to do it. Her 5th grade teacher grew very impatient with her and did not want to work with her. that ONE year of eye rolling and irritated exhales took a lot of future years to undo and rebuild. Homeschooling her gave me time and atmosphere to teach her new techniques (ways to make her brain pair things correctly) to deal with her type of learning disability. Now a senior in highschool, her teachers can't even detect (although she still works hard to overcome) this disabilty and find her to be one of the most enjoyable and "dedicated" students. Right now she is thinking she would like to be an interpreter. She is workinghard to learn Spanish. Enjoyed your blog!!