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Good Teachers Watch and Listen

Many people picture teaching as shoveling -or spooning- information into children's heads. But there's much more to good teaching and learning than that, as the following story by retired teacher Jan Booth shows.
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There's a popular bumper sticker I've seen numerous times -"Who rescued who?" The message refers to adopted animals, but it also puts me in mind of some of my most powerful lessons in the classroom. Who is teaching whom?

One of these lessons was delivered when I was teaching third grade. I started the week eager to implement some new ideas I was sure would help my kids get started with writing. I presented a lesson with enthusiasm and was gratified to see my students eagerly put pencils to paper to capture thoughts the activity elicited. Everyone except Clint. Clint looked at me, looked at his paper and sat quietly, producing nothing during writing workshop that day.

The next day we shared ideas generated and how those ideas were put to use in our drafts. Some kids hadn't used the activity; they already had ideas they wanted to pursue, and talked about their choices. Many were on a roll. Clint sat quietly, his paper painfully empty.

You can see what's coming. The rest of the week I tried valiantly to help Clint find a way to start writing. I offered a variety of strategies to help - I asked him to visualize a favorite place, encouraged him to remember specific details; I asked him to make lists about topics important to him; we had numerous conversations on things he knew about. And Clint sat quietly. Until one day during the second week he didn't - instead of sitting quietly, Clint started to cry. "I can't do it, Mrs. Booth! I just can't do it!" I just barely managed to not dissolve into tears myself.

I'd like to say that inspiration struck, or that I had an epiphany that changed Clint's life, but what happened was better than that. Clint taught me an important lesson. After approximately three weeks of writing workshop and blank paper, after countless hours of reading and thinking and worrying for me, the miracle happened. Clint started to write. He wrote, and he wrote and he wrote. He wrote nonstop until he was done. When he brought me two sheets of paper covered on both sides, I stopped what I was doing and read a complete, well-organized, interesting story. Clint had done the unthinkable - one draft and done. Not just done but well done.

I know now that there are writers like Clint who do all their writing in their head. All the idea gathering, sorting, deciding, drafting, revising, ALL of it - in their head. Nothing makes print until the final copy is ready . All that time he appeared to be doing "nothing," he was working as diligently and thoughtfully as my students whose pencils never stopped moving.

Good teachers watch and listen; they pay attention to what their students are teaching them. There are endless lessons for us to learn.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

TAKH May 31, 2013 at 12:04 PM
I was similar to Clint in school. My first "draft" was usually my best and required little re-writing. My teachers however frequently required that they receive 2 drafts to read and then the final. So I'd write my paper, then fake the drafts by rewriting what I wrote in a way I did not want it and throwing in a few mistakes. It was very annoying.
TAKH June 02, 2013 at 10:30 AM
You might want to fix the typo in the title of this piece.
Adrienne Saunders June 03, 2013 at 08:23 PM
Great praise of teachers, they work very hard with all of the conditions they must meet often with no help from parents at home and the heavy pendulum over their heads to test and test and still teach the curriculum in a way that the children actually learn something. And many still love their jobs, although it gets more and more difficult to hold on to the dream they had when choosing their profession.
Steven Zemelman June 03, 2013 at 09:57 PM
Adrienne-- That's exactly why I'm doing this blog: to recognize good teachers and to help the public become more aware of them so they receive more support and have the pendulum, as you call it, lightened.

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