Since retiring from the PBS NewsHour last year, I’ve been working on a book about my 41 years as a reporter. To jog my memory, I’ve reread my blog and what others have written in response. I’ve been struck by the thoughtfulness of many respondents, quite a few of whom are teachers.
Forty-one years of reporting taught me how special teachers are, and this current project reinforces that view. So many teachers routinely go the extra mile to connect with their students, and they do it without any expectation of recognition from their bosses. I believe it’s in the DNA of most of the men and women who make teaching their career. Shouldn’t we be making it easier for them to do what they do best, which is help grow adults, instead of hounding them about test scores?
I use those three words,help grow adults, advisedly.
“Help” conveys that teaching and learning are team sports.
“Grow” connotes a process of many steps (most forward, some not), which is why one test score–a snapshot–should never be used to make critical decisions. It’s a movie, not a photo.
“Adult” is the end-game of schooling, not ‘getting into college’ or ‘doing well on the SAT/ACT.’ What is it that we want children to be and be able to do when they are out on their own? Never forget that ‘We are what we repeatedly do.’
That’s why I want to share something written by a teacher I’ve never met. What Joe Beckman wrote in 2001 captures how teachers find ways to connect. They understand that kids don’t care how much a teacher knows, not until they know how much that teacher cares:
“I had a remarkable experience as a teacher last night, purely because of opportunity, setting and timing. One of the too-many disparate things I do is coach a bunch of kids in online credit recovery courses. A very bright but previously shy African American kid was struggling with a fairly basic history unit, not passing tests he obviously could have passed. So we talked. He had always hated history and was trying to work through what I’d call some “oppositional defiance disorder” with Abigail Adams. As he got up to take a break, he whispered that his real problem was that his mother made him homeless a few days before, and he’d been having problems with her for the past year.
We went into the hallway, talked a little, and he mellowed out a bit; he went to get a snack. On returning, I suggested we look at a movie rather than fight Abigail again. Just then he got a call from a girlfriend and rescheduled their date. While he was on the phone, I called up Bessie Smith’s short 1929 video, “St. Louis Blues.” She captured him. He kept muttering how the world has changed. Racism may continue, but not the way it was in 1929 in a Speak-Easy. When Bessie’s boyfriend stole her money from her stocking, the young man was shocked. I suggested he not show the movie to his girlfriend, and he giggled. We did a lot of history in a very, very short time.
When the movie was over, we talked about working through a learning contract that could build a view of US History from movies like that. He left in tears, and today I found him a place to live for the next six to twelve months.
Now, I’m not sure if that was art, media, literacy, history, music, compassion, social work, or merely a sense of peace and awareness that he knows he is not like Bessie’s boyfriend. Breaking those into such components really isn’t necessary – it’s more than our learning contract will include. Yet it most surely is teaching a kid some history that he may well remember a very long time.
Isn’t that the point?”
Amen, Joe Beckman, and thanks for the valuable reminder of what the best teachers do.