What can one teacher do?

Amazingly . . . one teacher can do quite a lot

In a book called Strategies to Inspire Active Learning: Complete Handbook, designed to help teachers develop classrooms where students are more involved their own learning, Dr. Merrill Harmin (2002) reported a retrospective study done in Montreal, Canada.

The researchers located a neighborhood that was not good. It was known for its unemployment, poor housing, drug usage and violence. Then they located an elementary school in the middle of that neighborhood. No one expected anything good to come out of being educated in that school.

Sure enough, as the researchers located adults who had attended that neighborhood elementary school, going back over 25 years, they found that most of these adults were not in decent housing, were unemployed, and were suffering from addictions of various kinds.

Such negative findings were “predictable,” given the nature of this decadent neighborhood and the tough job teachers had in that school trying to provide a decent education for the children.

However, there were some nice surprises.

What did Miss “A” do?

Some adults who had attended this “hopeless” elementary school lived in decent housing, were employed and were not addicts. This was amazing, given the bad start they had in elementary school.

An even greater surprise awaited the researchers as they connected each adult back to the teachers they had had in this elementary school.

A very high percentage of the successful adults had all had one particular teacher in Grade One. They named her “Miss A” in their study.

“Miss A” was just a regular “ordinary” teacher. However, she did not accept the idea that a poor family and a bad neighborhood equaled education without hope. She defied the immediate evidence and concentrated on the children in her Grade One classroom

She couldn’t fix the families and she couldn’t fix the neighborhood, so she concentrated on what she could influence: every student that walked though her door and became a member of her class. She mentally reminded herself, every day, “No child is ever going to leave this classroom not knowing they have value.”

She concentrated on every child having dignity and respect, regardless of their behavior or academic performance. And she concentrated on the idea that every child could learn more and more, as time went on, about managing themselves, educationally and behaviorally. She helped them develop their own small community in her classroom, and they helped each other learn.

The story was told of a visitor to her class. She noticed that the kids were actively involved in their own learning, and not slouching and discouraged like so many of the other students in other classes. They seemed cheerful and bright. The visitor walked over to the desk of one particularly hard-working boy, looked at his excellent work, bent down and whispered in his ear:

“My . . . you are a smart boy.”

The boy looked up at the visitor, and said cheerfully:

“We’re all smart in here.”

Well said.

Doc Meek, April 28, 2010

Sherwood Park, Alberta, CANADA; South Jordan, Utah, USA

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