Saturday, January 2

Feel THAT Power!

I'm not sure exactly what it is about this story that I just love so much. I mean, it's not every day that I post something from CNN, that bastion of the liberal elite media, owned and run as they are by messes of Republicans. All I've got to say is: any company that would hire or retain Nancy Grace (aka Satan) has red flags flyin' all over the place. So shoot me, this one's a good piece, watch it.

Is it that, in this era of instant fixes and short memories and action films, a significant portion of a third grade class from 1990 remembered this specific time and date, and went out of their way to show up and greet their teacher?

Is it that, in this time when the promise of a good job, the promise of till-death-do-we-part, the promise that no one in this rich country will go hungry--in this time of relatively empty promises, this teacher made a class of 8 & 9-year-olds a promise, kept it clearly in his mind for twenty years, and showed up, with faith that students would appear, even when he had no actual evidence that any of them would remember?

I don't think so. I'm not certain, but I think it's about the place that genuine loving kindness plays in a child's education. While we're so busy worrying about standardized scores and international competition, while we're so busy worrying about male teachers hugging students (yes, that is still an issue), while we're concerned about the fact that kids are always texting and "just don't read or write anymore" (isn't texting writing?), we forget about the role that love and admiration and respect play. Facts are one thing. Motivation is quite another. There is no question, in watching this video, that these now-almost-30-year-olds love their teacher, and that he feels the same. Who do you have in your life that knew (and respected) you in third grade and can still reflect that pride back to you?

And I think it's about the power of a great teacher. I have wracked my brain today, and I can't think of a damn thing more powerful than an amazing teacher. That's right. Nothing.

I bet you had one. Or maybe you have one now. It doesn't have to be a school teacher, of course. It could be a mentor, a guru, someone who taught you how to live through loss, a foster parent, a mom who made you feel like you could do anything, a friend who stood by you through thick and thin, teaching you what it means to have a real friend. Teachers come in all stripes.

Which brings guessed something I don't get. Words. As Enemies.

As you know if you have read my blog, I'm not, in general, a big fan of traditional schooling (yes, even alternative models). I'm not a fan, in short, because I have seen very little evidence of children being encouraged to think and direct their own learning rather than to meet some sort of arbitrary standard, be it standardized or generated by one person's view of "how things should be".

In that vein, I am a big fan of unschooling. I belong to several unschooling listserves, have attended an unschooling conference, and am still convinced that it is a phenomenal, if not the best, way to grow and learn and develop. That being said, there's one thing that bugs me. Many of the people on the lists that I read thoroughly reject (avec nausea) the verb "to teach", in all its conjugations. They seem unable to separate the word from its traditional form, which, come to think of it, could be a result of their not being encouraged to think critically or reclaim words. Hmm. I mean, a word is just a word, isn't it? For example, someone once said to me that, through our actions in relationships, we "teach people how to treat us". All socio-economic-political arguments aside for a moment, it's an interesting thought to consider. Unless, of course, you jump up in alarm, scream "No! We don't teach!!!". I don't get that. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Sorry. I do that.

I have had a few great teachers.

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Corbett, taught a first/second grade "split class". Her mother used to stop by--I don't remember why, but she greeted us warmly. In that age of times tables and Little Red Book/Little Green Book/Little Blue Book readers,

there were hands-on toys galore, a dress-up area, a zither with pages of tunes that one could pick out, and a 1950's counting abacus, which I have just got to say is aesthetically stunning.
I remember them like it was yesterday. I can feel those little round plastic discs in my hands, the nice little click they made when you moved them over to the other side (come to think of it, they were probably bakelite, and would make some darn fine jewelry....hmm....note to self). I remember the freedom to get up from your desk and go use them if you needed help figuring out a math problem. We had a patio (it was California) and we built an entire airport out of wood. My assignment was to bring in tinted cellophane for the windows on the control tower. And I built a plane. Yes, with real wood and nails. Yes, I was six. I gave Mrs. Corbett mints from Chicago that my dad brought home from business trips, with his suit smelling of airplanes (which I now realize was the smell of cigarettes) and his pockets full of tiny Chiclets boxes, the kind that used to be in those marvelous little dispensers.

She made us all gifts at the end of the year. I remember that either me or my friend Dea got a special ruler, I think it was in a felt case. She took us in. She loved us.

I brought Mrs. Corbett mints every year at holiday time for years, even all through high school. Everyone I knew who had had her as a teacher at White Oaks Elementary felt similarly. I said "I want to be like her when I grow up". When I was 14, I started working with young children. Several graduate degrees and almost 40 years later, I have never had any other career. I owe that to Mrs. Corbett. And it wasn't because she taught me how to read.

There are others, to be sure. Tom Brown, my history teacher in high school, who I had the privilege to help when I was a candystriper and he was in the hospital. Shirley Eglington, who was our faculty chaperone at Yosemite Institute when I was a freshman in high school, and who treated me as a peer. Jane Welker, who helped me challenge the system to remain working with children in college and who taught me more about observation of young children than I ever imagined possible--I can't overstate the importance of that skill. And last, but far from least, Judy Singer at Harvard Graduate School of Education, who in one semester repaired 20 years of "I'm no good at math", erased forever my D in undergraduate statistics, and made me feel smart for the first time since elementary school.

And those are only the "school" teachers. There have been and continue to be many others, no less important. They are irreplaceable.

Maybe that's what it is about this video. You can see it in their faces. He was irreplaceable.
And they were irreplaceable to him as well. The power in that gift is...well, phenomenal.

Do me a favor. You know you had one. We all have at least one. My daughter may even have one this year--I can see it in her eyes. See that "Leave a Comment" section? Tell me about a teacher that changed your life. Write as much as you want.

And think about that. Making a promise for 20 years out. A day, a time. Wow.

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