Two days ago, I received the following message:
” Just wanted to let you know that I passed my dissertation defense yesterday!
Thank you for believing in me. Here is my first publication.”
I taught the writer of that message 24 years ago and have not been in touch with her since then. Even though I left that school, moved on to another school district, changed my last name and where I live, she found me through social media. She now holds a doctorate in clinical social work.
I remember the paper she wrote in my sophomore Honors American Literature class. She analyzed the play, The Death of a Salesman, by focusing on the flute playing that was mentioned in the stage directions. No student of mine had ever written about the flute playing and drawn the conclusions that she did. She wrote that essay after reading the play carefully, responding to it in detail, sharing her questions and insights with the others in the class and me, and listening to our questions and insights as well. Her thinking and her writing were perceptive, innovative, and totally her own.
I remember my former student and she remembers me. That is what teaching and learning are all about.
That American literature course was not based on the 188 isolated and mundane skills that the non-educators who wrote the Common Core mandate to be taught in every sophomore English class in the country. (That is more than one skill per day for those of you who are counting). That course was based on collaborative curriculum work, initiated by the English teachers in that school district as we worked together over summers and during the school year to figure out how to best teach based on how students best learn.
Then this morning, I read an article by Gina Barreca, who once loved being a student and now loves being a teacher, in which she wrote about teachers and their students. She gave examples of teachers who enliven their students’ lives with a sense of endless possibilities and how those students give joy to their teachers as they realize those possibilities for themselves. It is hearing about the kind of relationships that Gina Barreca writes about and the kind of message that I received two days ago that will inspire idealistic, bright young people to want to teach. It is inviting teachers into the dynamic and empowering discussions about teaching and learning, rather than handing them scripted Common Core lessons, that will keep teachers with the best minds in our classrooms.