Thursday, September 27, 2007

At the end of the day . . .

Before I go home today, I had to capture my reaction to an article I just skimmed -- the article is going to appear in Thinking Classroom, a journal that is close to my heart, both professionally and personally. Thinking Classroom grew out of the Reading and Writing for Critical Thinking [RWCT] project in Eastern Europe that began in 1997 and lasted for five years. In truth, the project lives on in hundreds of thousands of teachers in Eastern Europe, Central America, and areas of the Far East where the RWCT project has taken root and grown. It also lives on in all the volunteers who worked with the in-country participants.

I was an RWCT volunteer from 1998-2003 and worked first in Latvia and then in Guatemala. The experience was the single most important thing I've done professioally in my life. It changed the way I looked at teaching and learning .. and in very real ways at the world. The teachers I worked with in both countries are still friends today, although I haven't seen them in too many years. I'll never forget their enthusiasm, their work ethic, their intelligence. I hope they learned half as much from me as I learned from them.

But back to the article -- it is by Pat Bloem and David Klooster -- they asked, "where were you 10 years ago." They reflected on their involvement with the Czech Republic, where they were volunteers. It made me think about where I was 10 years ago -- before I bumped into the right person in the right place at the right time and found out about RWCT. When I was young, just beginning my teaching career, I remember one evening during which four of us had gone out to eat and come back to our house for coffee. We played one of those parlour games - "what would you be or do if you could be or do anything" -- I remember Norm wanted to be Secretary of State; Linda [who was a social studies teacher] wanted to be an archeologist; it is not to my credit [and probably telling] that I cannot remember what Mike [my husband at the time] wanted to be/do. What I do clearly remember is that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do - I was teaching. Its all I had ever wanted to do. I never dreamed that I would become involved in a project like RWCT, that I would get to know 35 teachers from half-way around the world and would find a soul-mate among them, that I would make ten trips to Eastern Europe and see Romania, Hungary, Bram castle [which is sometimes mistakenly called Dracula's castle], Moscow and St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, and come to know the streets of Riga, Latvia, as well as I know my own hometown. What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?

I know that parents often tell their children not to be teachers -- that they are smart and could do so much more . . . but the truth is we need the smartest people in teaching, and most of the time when we follow our dreams - our heart - we find lives so much richer than we could ever imagine.


Derivarizer said...

I think all of that's nice, but I'd like to point out something about your comment at the end, where you stated that "we need the smartest people in teaching." Unfortunately, Dr. Gillis, I don't completely agree with you there. What do schools need? They need teachers with passion, not intelligence. To say that we need the smartest people in education discredits those who may not be superior in intelligence. What about all those averagely-capable english, math, social studies, science teachers? What about all those people who had to work hard to develop their knowledge, and didn't have it just come to them? No, I believe we need teachers who have struggled the most. Teachers who have been that kid in class who feels like the only one who doesn't understand; teachers who know what it's like to look up from the very bottom, who know how hard that climb to the top really is. Those who have had it come easy to them don't understand the difficulties or failures that others experience along the way because they've never dealt with them, and so they make awful teachers. They typically have no enthusiasm for their subject, and if they do, it's lost in their convoluted explanations. Think back to the smartest people you knew -- would they make great teachers? If so, why? Because they knew a lot about their subject? What does that matter if you can't teach it?

Dr. Glen Probst of Brigham Young University created an outline of sorts detailing the most common responses by students when they described their best teacher. Know what came first? Enthusiasm. Second? Preparation (which includes knowledge). But there were 23 other items on that list... such as punctuality, support and concern for students, politeness, firmness and control, consistency, provides personal help, humble, fair, sense of humor, relaxed.

Here's the link for you:

The smartest people shouldn't be teachers. The most caring should be teachers.

java junkie said...

I stand corrected -- you are right in many ways. When I use the term "smartest" though, I don't mean just "book learning" -- I mean people who are intelligent in multiple ways, particularly socially. Social intelligence helps teachers know how to reach kids in different ways - using different teaching techniques.

But you are right, we need caring teachers; but we have to have teachers who are intelligent in multiple ways and can think on their feet.