By Clyde Davis: CNJ columnist
About this time of year it seems appropriate, and perhaps essential, to focus on lessons learned from educators.
A new crop of graduates at varying levels will soon move to the next step, whether that step is first grade or the so-called “real world.” In truth, good teachers remind students the classroom is the “real world.” Such lessons are not always welcomed with open arms.
Today’s educator seems to be required to do more with less. More disciplining with less options, more results with less time, and more nurturing with less context. These would probably not be complaints on the part of many teachers, simply a statement of facts.
What teacher taught you that your best was expected, in a “no excuses” world?
I learned it a few times over, but the lesson that stuck happened when I was a college senior, preparing to graduate. Hilda Kring was our instructor for secondary language arts methods, and since I was student teaching, finishing my last wrestling season, and taking that methods class, I figured I could slack off on the methods part.
Wrong answer. I counted often the number of times I was told to redo a learning packet, and remember very well the day she took me and Dave Ellis (who was in a similar situation, due to baseball) aside and said to us “So, gentlemen, which one of your coaches taught you that life should be expected to be easy?”
No, she was not an anti-jock person, just someone who cared enough to remove us from any sense of entitlement or privilege. Today, more than ever, that sense of entitlement or privilege is probably one of the biggest challenges faced by teachers.
Which one of your teachers taught you that creative thinking, thinking outside the box, and learning to respond quickly (think on your feet) were worthwhile life skills?
My coach, both in linebacker play and in social studies, expected us to move quickly, but not be stuck in patterns and pre-programmed movement.
Another teacher was given to calling on us for impromptu readings or recitations, helping us to understand that, in life, we were going to have to learn to talk to people, and that 11th grade English was as good a place as any to start.
People of my generation are handicapped if they are not able to adapt, adjust and respond, and that will only become more true as time moves on. I can’t say it was always easy for a 17-year-old to read a poem he’s never seen, or pretend he was a Roman general second-guessing the Battle of Carthage, or shift a defense to cover three possible option plays, but I learned some valuable lessons.
Which of your educators taught you critical thinking skills? I remember something said to me by Doug Cook, the science teacher with whom I worked at Three-Way schools in Texas. Essentially, Doug was aware that 80 percent of what he might teach as content in science could be outdated, altered or disproven within 10 years. Therefore, he correctly hypothesized that the most effective thing he could give the students was the ability to think critically.
Effective teaching takes many forms, but the common element is the realization that one is preparing students for a world that is unpredictable and not always kind. It is often rewarding, sometimes thankless, always challenging, and constantly changing. Support professional educators; they pave the way of the future.