While searching for a baked zucchini recipe this afternoon, I found a note to myself that I had taught a female student what a thesaurus was. The noted ended with the hope that she’ll think of me the next time she needs or sees a thesaurus.
The thought was a provocative one, not because I remember her name or where the teaching moment occurred. It made me wonder how many individual teaching moments I have succeeded in creating throughout my years of teaching.
When I try, I can think of some specifics. In one case, I talked about my home town of Chicago – its lakefront, its public transportation system, its institutions of higher learning and the Chicago Public Library where I spent many years of my life. In most cases, students are quite curious, asking me questions ranging from my age to the names of my kids.
In other cases, I can remember explaining life in southern California, with the world’s most perfect climate, the extraordinary military presence and the spectacular Pacific Ocean.
But here’s what was more exhilarating: how many teaching moments have I succeeded at creating without my knowledge? When I taught someone how to spell a word, did that correct spelling persist? If I described the differences between ovals, squares, rectangles and octagons, did that teaching/learning moment remain with them?
It also occurs to me that every minute is an opportunity to be intentional and specific about what we say and do in the presence of our kids. It’s altogether possible that my describing all of the beautiful, remarkable components of a library motivated a student to explore the local library. It’s also possible that a student or group of students took home a spelling list and proudly spelled some difficult words that they would use into adulthood.
When we label our chances to teach as learning sessions, students are likely to resist, indicating that they don’t want or need to know any individual thought. But when we express information with excitement, you can almost see illumination occur. It’s the difference between showing a student how railroads have evolved over the centuries and having them read the paragraphs in a book. Wake up the content and listen to the locomotive and cars rolling down the rails. Shalom.