Saturday, March 23, 2013

Teacher Edition

I love popcorn. My love for popcorn, though, has turned me into a popcorn snob. I really only enjoy homemade popcorn. For that matter, I really only enjoy my homemade popcorn. I'll eat other kinds. The convenience of a microwaved bag at times weakens my resolve and I'll plod my way through a batch. I'll tolerate gourmet brands and often find inspiration in their flavors, textures and ingredients.

I have a homemade popper. I also have a few popcorn recipe books. I often get gourmet kernels and seasonings as gifts. Over the course of hundreds of batches, though, I have tweaked recipes, ingredients and techniques to meet my particular tastes and desires. My first batch was not nearly as good as the one I made today. Hopefully tomorrow's batch will be even better.

Too often in education we see the textbook as source and summit of all that happens in our classrooms. Start on page 1. Continue, in order, all the way up to page 376. Be sure to use all of the book worksheets, question ideas, chapter tests, concept extenders and any and all other content and technique given. Too often do those outside of education (and mediocre to marginal teachers) diminish the role of the teacher and the artistry needed to be a good one down to merely following, word for word, the script in the teacher's edition of a textbook.

Teachers - good ones - are smarter than the textbook. They take into consideration their students and their particular needs, strengths and interests and incorporate these into their planning, instruction and assessment. Teachers - good ones - do not blindly follow a script from "". They don't even follow the same script as the one that worked last year or last class period.

Teaching, for as scientific as it is, is also an art form. It requires looking at various sources and taking the best from each. It entails designing the content in such a way that connections are made to other subjects and topics, allowing students to construct new knowledge based on their understanding of prior knowledge. It requires organizing the curriculum in such a way that concepts build upon each other and that they also align with similar topics in other classes. It demands that assessments be engaging and challenging and something much more creative than the test found at the end of the chapter. There is a certain aspect of theatrical performance in teaching. Delivery can enhance and supplement a well designed lesson. Approaches with particular students must vary and be differentiated. Concepts must be retaught, sometimes within a given class period.

Ultimately, teaching is so much more than just following a recipe.

I would also say the same about life. Even though the Bible can be understood as "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" there are so many variables to consider, so many things that can happen that you can't just turn to the 3rd chapter of St. Paul's letter to Timothy and find out what to do to discipline a child (I'm sure there is some wisdom in this particular part of Scripture, but no matter how wise, it won't  follow a strict if-this-then-that format).

Living well, in God's eyes, can't be plugged into a formula either. There isn't a ceiling on the number of good deeds you should perform in a day, week, month or lifetime. There isn't an instruction booklet for every situation of our lives.

But we  do have a Teacher - Jesus. He is the Teacher and He is the most skilled artist ever. He can take the curriculum we need to learn and adapt and mold it into the most engaging and dynamic lessons. He can pull from any source and help direct us. Our teacher editions are filled with mediocre suggestions and ideas; His is filled with omniscience and omnipotence. He can help any of us, all of us, each of us.

You. Me. Everyone.