Learning and teaching


My current extended-stay teaching assignment is coming to a close. What a journey! I’ve loved the work and the students. I’ve also changed my description of the teacher/student, parent/child interaction from “teaching and learning — adults and children teaching and learning from each other” – to learning and teaching.

This column is Virtues II, in two stories.

“Why do you go so fast?”

I’ve been teaching – trying anyway – about colonial America recently. The Saturday before the first day of the unit, I distilled the vast and detailed textbook narrative into manageable sections. Confident I’d NAILED it, I delivered Day One’s topic slowly and deliberately so the students would be sure to enjoy the grandeur of the topic and start making life-changing connections immediately.

It wasn’t actually like that at all. After some silence in the room full of heavy-lidded students, Quiet Student spoke up. “Why do you go so fast?”

What?! Ok. I cut my speed in half, doubled my repetitions, provided note sheets and visual aids and pithy YouTube videos, gave pretests and retests, all so the students would catch a passion for history. Or at least pass the test.

The day of the test, which was a repeat of the practice test the day before, Star Student took one look at the test and started yelling and storming around the room. “We didn’t study this! We don’t know anything about this!” As my blood pressure rose I alternated between entreating, imploring and ordering Star Student to please sit down and be quiet.

Every single person failed the test. By a lot. I had clearly missed the cue from Quiet Student. I had also undernoticed how sleepy every student looked pretty much every day of my really awesome lessons.

That was a Friday. Monday, I retaught the main points, converted the entire test to a true-false surefire success — an entire repeat test with the same questions, and every single answer was true.

Approximately three students passed the test. Not three in every class. Just three. “I hate this class,” formerly happy and engaging Very Best Grades Student said after my magnanimous freebie retest.

Now, honestly, this one was on them. They had their chance. Twice. But I was still searching for answers. Turns out, it was about the Virtues all along. Quiet Student was hoping for more conversation and more time. I needed to respect her diligence in taking notes and thinking about the topic.

Wild Star Student just really, REALLY, wanted to get an A. Test anxiety had kicked in, he panicked, then I panicked, and no one could remember anything.

I wish I’d said, “I so appreciate your zeal. I know you know every answer. We’ve talked about them a few times. You can do this. Let me read the test out loud and we’ll work through it together.”

I needed to learn more about him and affirm his virtue before presuming to teach him anything. He wasn’t being wild just to be wild. He wanted to succeed.


There’s one story I’ll carry with me from now on. After that test, I had let “I hate this class” Very Best Grades Student get to me and hurt my feelings. He had pouted, thrown his stuff on the floor and generally punished me for living.

So, I wasn’t exactly cheerful when it was time to introduce the week’s virtue the very next day. —Caring. As in, I can give love and attention to the people and things that matter most to me. I can make the world a better place.

I dutifully collected everyone’s written examples of how they could specifically show caring, wondering if this was a waste of time. Very Best Grades Student’s paper said: “I can show caring to Ms. Crown by paying attention in class. I’m sorry for yesterday.”

Wherever I go next, I can live on that the rest of the year.

Learning and teaching. I’ve learned to give these and the next kiddos a chance to show me who they really are, not just once, but every day; what they need and how to communicate much, much better.

For more about learning and teaching the virtues, visit http://www.virtuesproject.com.


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