October 22, 2006

Humility for Teachers

I know a very smart high school math teacher. In fact, Dan is a math whiz and has studied all the strategies necessary for instructing kids in every mathematical concept. He is incredibly organized, having created a simple yet manageable homework system for his students. He maintains classroom discipline and regularly communicates with parents.

Yet he is a horrible teacher.

Why? Because he is a tyrant.

His knowledge means nothing and his strategies fall on deaf ears because of how he belittles his students in the process. They rebel, though not in the classroom, since the threat of one of Dan’s frequent tirades keeps them in check. Instead, they refuse to study or do the homework, even though they understand the system. So, of course, they fail—to the tune of 80% or more each semester.

In response, Dan complains to anyone within earshot about “those lazy, rotten kids!” Never mind that many of these students bend over backwards to succeed with virtually every other teacher.

Students beg for different math teachers, but Dan’s classes are prerequisite to moving on. So they repeat his courses—and fail again. And, tragically, dozens of students have actually dropped out of school altogether as a result.

Can those students handle their difficulties with Dan in smarter ways? Absolutely. But the point here is that they shouldn’t have to. Dan needs to study the root cause of his dysfunctional classes—which, of course, points back to him. Dan needs the humility of self-examination and change.

Dan is an extreme example, but he is a real person. And from his example each of us should ask ourselves a question: As a teacher, how do I need to humble myself—in order to promote the learning and growth of my students?

After all, isn’t that why we signed on to our jobs in the first place?


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