Here’s a testament to how well people learn when the material means something to them — I can remember second grade better than, well, most of college.
I had a teacher, Mrs. Keyes, who made you forget you were in school. Let me give you some examples. For the science fair, we made a giant, paper mache, blue whale. I’m not sure how we moved it once it was done, but I do recall that at some point, it took up the entire length of the classroom. We all wrote reports, and I will never forget that blue whales eat krill and have baleen, not teeth. Take-away lessons for an 8-year-old: Humans can make animals go away forever if we’re not careful. And putting your hands in huge buckets of floury newspaper is awesome.
Then there was the great can collection. Keep in mind that this was in the 1970s when everybody didn’t just stick their recycling on the curb. All the kids diligently brought in their cans (I think I recall pushing my dad to drink more soda than usual), stacked them neatly in columns and rows, and counted to a thousand. Then we sent them to the recycling center and used the money to have a party. Take-away lessons for an 8-year-old: People who don’t recycle are crazy. And a thousand is a lot.
And there was dancing. We learned to do the Horah to Hava Nagila. Take-away lessons for an 8-year-old: Why the heck wouldn’t everybody want to be Jewish? And I am an awesome dancer…
Truly, I could go on and on about her class. My husband had her the year before me, and he remembers how she got him to come into the room on the first day of school by showing him the class ferret. It was a bad day for his parents — they’d dragged him, kicking and screaming to school, and at one point, they had to wrench him off the door jam of the classroom (and you thought you had problems). Mrs. Keyes turned out to be one of his best teachers too — she figured out that she just needed to give him extra responsibilities every day. I’m sure someone else would’ve permanently stuck him in a corner.
Anyway, I thought of Mrs. Keyes today because of a documentary that’s airing Friday, September 6th on CBS. “TEACH” chronicles a year-in-the-life of four inspiring teachers. It’s a Davis Guggenheim project, so you know it’ll be good (he’s the guy who did An Inconvenient Truth).
Please pass this on — I hope as many people watch it as possible. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sick and tired of people blaming teachers for all the problems we’re having with our schools. In fact, I think it’s time for another analogy (because we all know how much I loves me my analogies)…
Say you’re running a restaurant, and you decide it’s not a top priority to invest in good equipment for the kitchen, buy fresh food, or make sure the knifes are routinely sharpened. You’re convinced that your professionally trained chefs (who get paid crap) are working for you because they can’t really do anything else and are just kind of lazy. You also assume they’re not very bright, so you tell them exactly how they’re supposed to cook everything, even if they have ideas about how to make things taste better.
When the food starts coming out of the kitchen and people complain that it sucks, you of course blame the chefs. So then you decide to finally invest some money — on an outside consultant to come in, taste the food, and tell you exactly “what’s gone wrong” (and incidentally, the consultant only knows how to use a microwave).
Folks, it’s time to invest in the kitchen, fire the consultant, and pay the chefs. And stop treating them like we don’t even trust them to boil water.
Got a favorite teacher story? I’d love to hear it!
Thanks to Participant Media for sponsoring this post and allowing me to support teachers everywhere.