Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Pondering Three Questions
There is a wonderful children's book titled The Three Questions. Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy and written by Jon J. Muth, it tells a tale of great questions and sage answers. We could probably all live excellent lives based on the wisdom found in books written for children. This is one book I have read several times ( to children) and each time it hits me between the eyes with its important message.
In the book, there is a little boy asking an old wise turtle some questions: What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? I won't tell you the turtle's answers, because I think you may want to read the book or at least ponder the questions yourself.
I will say that I have been thinking about these questions a lot as I prepare to teach and learn this year. Sorting through the wrong answers has been easy. Figuring out my own answers has been a little tougher.
When is the best time to do things? Well, I don't think it is just because the child is in the 1st grade or 6th grade or senior year of high school. Although we are somewhat constrained by expectations to teach grade level standards, good teachers know in their heart of hearts that until a child is ready, you can teach your socks off and it isn't going to stick. So, the best time to do things is when the child reaches that point where they wonder what is next and he is ready to learn it. Wonderful teachers bring each child to the brink of new learning, then wait for the child to ask, "so... now what?" We won't do this perfectly for each child, but we should never forget that we are teaching kids, not standards and not test preparation. I want to know my students well enough to hear what they are curious about and to know when they are ready for deeper understanding and new information.
Who is the most important one? Each child who comes into the room every day. Greet them by name, smile sincerely, and start fresh each day. The parent who may be on the school board or in an important public office, the parent who is white collar, blue collar or in the county jail isn't the most important, the principal isn't the most important, the state commissioner of education isn't the most important and the creator of state and local assessments sure as heck isn't the most important. Each student, each day, is the most important person. They deserve full attention, sincere respect, and kindness. And, by the way, so do you.
What is the right thing to do? One's very best, every day. I am pledging to NOT say to my students that they must learn something because it is on the state assessment, that they shouldn't even learn it to be prepared for college or high school but that they should learn it because each of us should do our best every day because that is where we are. So many times I hear teachers say to their students, " I am trying to prepare you for..." and it strikes me that the child is being robbed of the chance to live their wonderful and in -the -present life. If we need rationale for requiring certain things, it ought to be that we believe that this task or assignment is the good thing needed for the student to do today, this week, this year. The residual effect of doing that every day because it is the right thing to do? We will be prepared for life down the road. Let's stop taking today away from ourselves and our students.
These are good questions and I hope you can ponder them too. I would love to hear your answers!