Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Do I Have To Like You To Teach You?

If we limit the definition of teaching to nothing more than giving information, then the answer is obviously no.  A person who hates my living guts may shout, "That truck's about to hit you!"  His motivation may be purely selfish.  He does not want the truck to splatter my innards all over his new car.  His tone could have been quite abrasive.  Nevertheless, at the basest level, he has taught me something, namely that a truck was about to hit me, a fact of which I may not have been aware.

Let's move past the absurd.  This is not what most of us mean by teaching.  We have a general understanding that teaching involves someone who knows a thing and someone who does not.  For any of a large number of reasons, they have been brought together, and the one who knows the thing must do something so the other person knows it, too.  In this scenario, it is also not necessary that the teacher like the student.  The teacher can do a perfectly adequate job of imparting information so that the student acquires the intended knowledge or skill.  During the teaching interaction, the teacher may well care nothing about the student, focusing solely on the paycheck.  The teacher may even harbor ill will toward the student.

But let us take it a step further to genuine education.  This is a far different enterprise.  Genuine education is an infinitely complex activity that cannot happen apart from meaningful and intentional relationships.  It is a distinctly human enterprise and therefore must be a humane one as well if it is to have any hope of success.

Enter Anne Marie Osheyack, the 2014 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year.  Anne Marie was recently a guest on the podcast I co-host with Gary Abud, the 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year, and she talked about something few discuss.  You can hear the whole podcast here, and I encourage you to listen to all she has to say about setting and maintaining high standards for students.  What really struck me, though, was her emphasis on the need to like students and to see them as human beings.

Sadly, this seems to be a novel concept.  I say it is novel, for what I hear most regarding education has to do with curriculum, testing, teacher evaluations, data, school ratings, politics, standards, and taxes.  Oh, we also talk a lot about testing, evaluations, and data.  And we also talk a lot about data.  Did I mention the data?

It is, of course, important to know something about our students, and there is something that can be learned by counting the number of questions students get right and wrong on a test.  There is something to be gained from looking at which questions received more right answers versus wrong.  Yet for all the value gained by looking at numbers generated by students, we know exactly, and forgive the mathematical language here, diddly divided by squat about the people, the human beings, homines sapientes, who are in our classes.

To know something about people, we must enter into relationships with them, and unless a scholar is doing dispassionate research about tyrants, those relationships are based on affection.  We must, dare I say it, love our students.  Do I enjoy every behavior exhibited by each of my students?  Of course not.  Yet I care about them.  I want to know what kinds of music they enjoy, whether they prefer deep dish or hand-tossed pizza, and what they think of the latest blockbuster movie before I spend my money on it.  When they return from an illness, I want to know how they are doing and how much longer they will have to be on the crutches.  I enjoy listening to their stories of things they learned in another class and the connections they made with ours.

How much of this goes into an artifact that can be displayed in our hallways?  Zip.  Which state standard covers such interactions?  Not one.  For which portions of the A.P. or I.B. exam will these parts of my class prepare my students?  None that I know of, and if there are any, I frankly do not care.  What I care about are the young people...young people...with whom I get to share not just life, but some of the most amazing discoveries about life ever made by our fellow human beings across time and space.

And you know what?  Anne Marie is right.  It is from such relationships that genuine education, which is the only kind that truly matters, will grow.

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