“This teaching thing is an art as well as a science.” Carl Bosch on the art, science, and miracle of learning.
55 Years in School (and the Last)
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I hope you have a good story about school. I know we all have those stories hidden somewhere. We don’t get to tell them too often. Not just the ones about the prom or making the junior varsity basketball team when you thought for sure you’d be cut. I’m referring to deeper, richer stories. Maybe it was when you finally “cracked the code” and you could understand those intricate letters in certain formations and you could actually read for the first time. You could really read! An entire universe laid itself open and announced: “Here! Dive in!” Perhaps it was the time you nearly won the Spelling Bee. Or when you mastered all the multiplication tables, even the 11 and 12 times tables. Maybe your best story is 2nd grade (or fourth, or fifth, or whenever) because you loved the teacher. It might be that subject that you enjoyed going to every single day because the teacher was just simply amazing.
Go back even further, if you can, and find another story. Even before school. Little kids never cease to astound me. They all think they can draw. And sing. And dance. And be superheroes. And be queen. Or king. And then life comes along and knocks the stuffing out of them. Because they’re really not that good at any of those things. And you hear kids in elementary school make statements like: “I can’t draw,” or “I’m no good at singing.” And when I hear that I just want to scream out loud, “You’re seven years old! Don’t believe it!” And mostly it’s life that delivers that hard message, but sometimes it’s parents. And sometimes it’s school that kills those dreams.
School can be absolutely amazing. By its nature it has to be demanding and challenging, but it can also be energetic, enlightening, dramatic, thoughtful, heartfelt, connecting, sincere, honest and creative. The teacher’s audience is a captured one in that classroom, and students are often not on the same page as the teacher. Nowadays, maybe less often than we really want to admit. Too many distractions out there in the wide, wide world. But teachers have to give it the honest attempt and most do. We owe it to our students and we owe it to ourselves.
If you’re a teacher, think of this: there is a student sitting in your classroom who thinks and believes that you are the greatest teacher they’ve ever had. Maybe it’s only one child. Teach to that student even though you don’t know who they are. Let the others come along for the ride.
America has got to find its way back to where education was the fundamental key. The key to upward mobility, the key to participatory citizenship, the key to common values. We have to draw back just a little bit on this headlong rush into data, data, data, and find the spirit that needs to inhabit every classroom. This teaching thing is an art as well as a science. If you don’t believe that then you’ve never felt the magic that can occur. It’s a lightning bolt of comprehension. A passing on of knowledge, skill and wisdom, along with heart, that the teacher delivers and the student really “gets”. It’s a small miracle and it occurs every day.
My daily career is finished. Inspired by a handful of truly wonderful, intelligent and inspiring teachers throughout my schooling, I was lucky enough to find a profession that I loved. I attempted to bring the energy every day for 38 years. I often failed, but I know that I succeeded in equal measure. It was an honor and a privilege.
I have 1001 awesome school stories. Maybe I’ll have a few more. Why don’t you tell someone one of yours?
—Photo credit: Tim Ruane