Comparing Memories

Comparing Memories

Some memories get recalled again and again. We tell them as narrative refrains that are mixed in with accounts of new experiences — ‘It was just like back when . . . ‘ Sometimes memories are drawn out to be retold (or silently remembered) at certain times of year — like the memory of a good bye on the anniversary of the last time a loved one was seen.

Memories are not simply what happened to us then. Memories are how we build our now out of the stuff of what we’ve carried inside of us from before.

Teaching history, I am intrigued by memory. It is the source for our understanding of the past and of the present. But it is a flowing resource and a work in progress. To understand the power of memory — and its potentials for shaping our nows and our futures — it is important to observe that memory is not solidly fixed and it should not be assumed to be static.  Continue reading

The Love of Stories Read Aloud

The Love of Stories Read Aloud

She began almost every class after lunch by reading to us.

We were sixth-graders. She was our teacher during the class period right before lunch and the class period right after. The subjects she taught were English and Social Studies.

How could one possibly teach anything to adolescents before and after lunch? It was crazy . . . something that could only make sense to a middle school administrator.

Fifteen minutes. Sometimes twenty or more. She read to us as we digested our meals and cooled down from time on the playground. I can still hear Mrs Y’s voice. I can even remember many of the stories she read from books about twelve and thirteen year-olds like ourselves.  Continue reading

The Puppet and Mrs S

The Puppet and Mrs S

I was dyslexic before educators knew what dyslexic was. So, seeking to explain why I couldn’t spell, why I stumbled all over whatever I was told to read aloud, and why I was slow to complete assignments, I was called lazy, stupid, and an assortment of other things. The low-point of my first grade year in school was being made to stand in the corner of the room as punishment for not being able to read a paragraph aloud without errors. Humiliation was part of pedagogy back then. I was an over-sensitive child who felt like I was being put into the public stocks in a 17th century New England town.

I don’t know how I eventually got referred to the school’s reading specialist. That came after I’d gotten to the point that I hated school and I’d even stopped having interest in books (which I’d loved since my parents started reading to me — long before my earliest memories).

Mrs S was a young woman in her mid-20s. Of course, she didn’t seem young to me at the time (mid-20s being on the nearer end of ‘ancient’). She was an openly kind and compassionate person. She was a keen observer and she did not rush to label behaviour. The first few weeks she watched me, sat and talked with me, and encouraged me to read. I couldn’t.  Continue reading

Challenging But Not Severe

Challenging But Not Severe

My dad was right; I have forgotten almost everything any teacher worked to teach me. It is my character that has been improved. (Please see previous post.) That is the lasting influence of those who were most effective. The facts and skills I have taught myself (often again) as I have needed them. I was empowered by the best of my teachers to teach myself and learn what I needed.

What is common to the teacher’s whose presence in my life I still recall and influence I can still trace is that they were all demanding — but not severe. Continue reading

A Good Teacher is a Good Student

A Good Teacher is a Good Student

‘I can’t be a teacher — I’m just learning. I don’t know enough to teach.’

The woman, a student in one of my classes, sat across the small round table from me. She was a few years older than I was. We were both already middle-aged. I sat there thinking about what she said. She was a year away from graduating with her master’s degree; about the same time she would have her first job — in which she would be required to teach.

She looked at me expectantly. I sat there, thinking and smiling.

‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’ she said with a note of irritation in her voice.

‘What would you like me to say?’ I asked. She looked exasperated.  Continue reading

What Are You Fighting Against?

What Are You Fighting Against?

‘What are you fighting against?’

We were all sitting around our professor, on the floor, on drawing horses, or on tackle boxes filled with art supplies. We were in a darkened university drawing studio. A few minutes before, he had sent the model out for a break and beckoned us to join him for some philosophical reflection. This was a regular part of being his student; and it was an aspect of his teaching that most of us appreciated.

But, no one ventured a reply to his question. He had a fine intellect; one of the best I’ve encountered. It was easy to feel intimidated when speaking with him. Sometimes those who answered before he made clear where he wanted to go with his thoughts hit embarrassingly far from the mark.

‘What makes you angry?’  Continue reading

The Point of All Learning

The Point of All Learning

The point of all learning is the improvement of character.

This is written across the top of the whiteboard in my office. It is there as a personal and professional statement of purpose.

When I was about seven years old, right about this time of year, my dad was setting up his classroom at an elementary school in New Hudson, Michigan. It was late afternoon and golden light was flooding that room in the old schoolhouse. Dad had been watching me for the day. He’d kept me busy with tasks like lining up the desks in perfect rows, rewashing the chalkboard so that it met his standards of clean, and organizing the pens and pencils in his desk. It was perfect training for a child who would one day grow up to have very fine OCD habits of his own. Then, as my stomach reminded me that the day was nearly done, Dad suddenly stopped what he was doing and summoned my attention by calling my name.

‘Glen, there are two things you need to know and remember:  Continue reading