Sunday, April 3, 2022

The Imperfect Lesson

Ring the bells that still can ring,

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.    

-      Leonard Cohen: Anthem


Everything I value about my work as an educator came from this simple fact:


I was a kid who hated school and became a teacher. 


Meaning I was determined to find a better way to do this. Recognizing that children gathering each day for twelve to twenty years is an extraordinary opportunity,  I took seriously the thought that there’s not a minute to waste. Any moment in a class that is not playful, not deadly serious, not an opportunity to discover something worthy about the world, about ourselves and about each other, is squandering the beautiful possibilities life and learning offer us. 


I walked with a seasoned teacher colleague the other day and she was lamenting that the young teachers she was mentoring had to spend so much time filling out forms. Those lists made up by people in offices who haven’t sat on the floor with actual children in circle time for a long time. And some never. They preach the adult fantasy of the perfect lesson that has little to do with how children actually are and why teachers chose to teach. Good teaching is an arrival at grace through the doors of failures. Now it has become a carnival shooting gallery, all the checkpoints of clearly stated objectives, social-emotional bullet points, differentiated education strategies, culturally responsive curriculums and such lined up to be shot down to win the kewpie doll. Aiming for the perfect score, there’s no place for the light to enter.


The whole glory of awakening young souls to beauty and wonder and possibility, the whole messy and artful craft of inviting delicate whispers and exuberant shouts into the venture, the deep necessity of a mentor watching the teacher and their posture and gesture and voice and attention and connection and exuberance and passion and love, the need for the teacher to watch for the same in the student, is now reduced to ticking off pre-packaged standards that can be discussed in a bland voice and collated by computers. Young teachers are handed coloring books and told to stay inside the lines. Like people walking through an exquisite forest with their heads buried in their phones, teachers are missing what’s important and administrators are hell-bent on requiring them to do so. 


Real teaching, like cooking and jazz, is an art form, not a Google form. It is a dance, a conversation, an improvisation, a sensitively attuned call and response, a playful exploration and experimentation. No two classes are alike. 


Like all worthy ventures, it is at its best when love enters the picture. The ancient Greeks knew Eros as a fundamental agent in the formation of the world, using the uniting power of love to bring order and harmony among the conflicting elements of Chaos. We all could use more order and harmony, less chaos in an increasingly tumultuous world. Let us start with the children. If we are to hold them captive for all their years of schooling, let’s keep their wonder alive, feed their curiosity, bequeath them tools for expression of beauty. Let the teachers teach from the depths of their love and passion, ring the musical bells the children need to hear and let the light shine through the cracks. 

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