What Children Should Be Taught
Debbie was in a Michael’s store recently, appropriately masked and adhering to social distance guidelines. She was checking out at the register. The checker noticed a number of craft items that looked like something a teacher would buy. She asked Debbie if she was a teacher. Debbie said that she had been a teacher for her entire career.
“Oh, what grade?” The lady asked.
This is always a tough question because Debbie can’t stand people bragging about their professional lives, and if Debbie were to answer the question truthfully, she thinks it would sound puffed up. But the truth is that, at some time or the other, she has taught every single grade level from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, in both public schools and private, held administrative positions from assistant principal and principal through central office, was a researcher in a Federal think tank on reading instruction, was the founding principal of a charter school that today is one of the most highly ranked in the Austin area, served as an accreditor of public schools for the Texas Education Agency, and retired as a tenured professor from Texas A & M University. I’m proud of her and don’t mind bragging.
Of course, she didn’t say that when the lady asked her what grade she taught. She just said, I taught a lot of different grades over the years, but I especially loved teaching the little ones to read.
The checker asked what the supplies were for. And Debbie said she was helping our daughter Jessica with our granddaughter Grace’s distance learning. Some of you are aware that Jessica brought Grace to stay with us for three weeks at our home on Saint Simons Island and here in New Orleans so Debbie could tutor Grace in the at-home on-line program from her school.
At this point a lady in the line behind Debbie said, “How is that whole thing going?”
Debbie was diplomatic, noting that it all depends on what school district a child is in and what level of funding their school receives, but she was honest about how difficult it had been for Jessica, and Grace, and her, working with a school district that is not blessed with the advantages of strong instructional programs and strong technical support.
At some point someone in line who had been lamenting their own experience with education, said, “So you are a life-long teacher. What should children be taught?”
Debbie stood there for a moment, gathered her thoughts and answered. Five things:
- Children should be taught to read, not just how to read, but to read. (It’s a matter of falling in love with reading, not mouthing sounds.)
- Children should be taught to think. (For years it seems that many schools have just been trying to produce students who can tolerate boredom and obey orders.)
- Children should be taught to use their common sense. (Which, of course, means that they should be shown the difference between knowledge and wisdom.)
- Children should be taught to be kind. (‘Nuff said)
- And children should be taught to make the world better than they found it. (Education is not an end in itself.)
She said nothing, you might have noticed, about teaching children how to score higher on standardized tests (there are tricks, for example: if you don’t know the answer always choose “c.”) or how to make a teacher like you (if a teacher is worth his or her salt, a child’s curiosity will be just about enough). She said, later, when telling me about the conversation, that if motivated children don’t learn, then it isn’t their fault. And most children really are motivated; you just have to find the key to their hearts.