So, does this title have more than one meaning? Of course it does. This post is about being a teacher and having wisdom. And I know you will immediately think, “You dumb guy! I know teachers who aren’t wise at all! Some teachers are stupid!”
You are especially saying that if you are a student.
You are not wrong, either. Some teachers have no business being teachers. It is especially difficult to find good science and math teachers. After all, those who are good at math and science can make so much more money in the private sector, that they would have to be born to be a teacher… and realize it, to go into teaching. There are very good science and math teachers out there, but many of them are wilting under the weight of a difficult job being made constantly harder by social pressures like truly dumb people who say things like, “You can’t solve our education problem by throwing money at it!” I guarantee no one has ever thrown money at the problem. If teachers were paid what they were worth so that we could retain good, competent teachers, you would see education make an amazing amount of progress in a very short time. What Wall Street firm fails to pay their star players what they are worth? Do bankers and lawyers get punished for doing a good job by asking them to produce more with fewer resources for less pay? Those folks in finance and law always pay the price for the best because that always produces the best result. If you want schools to routinely produce critical thinkers and problem-solvers, why would you complain that we are spending too much money per kid? Of course, there are those with the money and the power (especially in Texas) who really don’t want more students coming out of schools with the ability to think and decide for themselves. Smart people are harder to control and make a profit from. (Out of Control is a book they don’t want you to read.)
So now I have totally proved the point that smart people who are looking out for their own interests should never go into teaching. Still, among the unwashed, unloved, and incompetent that do make the mistake of going into teaching, there is still a great deal of learning and gaining of wisdom going on. After all, if a fool like me can become a good teacher, anybody can do it. You just have to learn a few bits of wisdom the hard way that have very little to do with what we call “common sense”.
As Dr. Tsabary points out in the book I plastered on the front of this post, discipline is not what you think. We all remember that teacher we had that nobody listened to. She was always yelling at us. She made threats. She punished us. And even the good kids in class would shoot spitwads at the back of her head. Why did we not respect and learn from this teacher? Because she never learned these profound truths.
1. Kids are people. They want to be treated with respect and even love. Their ideas matter as much, if not more than the teacher’s ideas. Good teachers will;
a. Get to know every kid in their class as a human being, knowing what they believe in, what they care about, where they come from, and who they think they are.
b. Ask them questions. They will never have an original idea if you do not make them think. They have insights and creativity and strengths as well as weaknesses, bad behavior, and wrong ideas. You have to emphasize the former and minimize the latter.
c. Laughing and talking in the classroom is evidence of learning. Quietly filling out worksheets is evidence of ignorance, and most likely the ignorance of the teacher.
2. Tests don’t matter. This is always true for these reasons;
a. Tests are a comparison, and nothing is gained by comparing kids. Comparing the scores of my bilingual kids in South Texas with upper class rich kids in Chicago and college-bound kids in Tokyo has no value. Their lives are completely different and so are their needs. If we don’t score as well on the tests as the kids in Tokyo, what difference will that make to what time the train arrives in the station in Paris? (Especially if Pierre has chosen the bullet train that goes south at a rate of 200 miles per hour. No trains in Texas go that fast without crashing and blowing up.)
b. If I spend time in class teaching students how to read and making them practice reading critically, they will do just as well as the kids who drilled extensively from specially made State materials preparing for the test on the reading and vocabulary portions. The only way that outcome changes is by cheating and giving them the actual test questions before the test. (I should point out that teachers caught doing this last thing are shot in Texas and buried in a box full of rattlesnakes. Dang old teachers, anyhow!)
I know I started this little post by convincing you that I am not wise, and very probably mentally unbalanced. And now that I have made my arguments, you know for sure. But over time, there is wisdom to be learned from being a teacher. You don’t have to believe me, but it’s true. (I don’t know how many times I used that phrase out loud in a classroom over 31 years, but I am guessing you couldn’t count them on fingers even if you used the hands of every kid I ever had as a student.)