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I have learned to appreciate the times in life when fate, destiny, the divine or just circumstances in general grab me by the shoulders, look me in the eyes, and calmly say, “Bless your heart, let me help.” They gently spin me around and guide me in a better direction.
I used to rebel against redirection and suggestion. In feeble attempts to assert myself, I looked at proposals as an insult to my independent competence. But then, I became a teacher.
Being a teacher forces you to learn how to accept suggestions, embrace mandates, and excel amidst change. I would venture to say teachers are some of the most resilient people I know. They have developed not only a thick skin that disallows the blows of everyone else’s opinions to bruise their drive, but they have also, out of self-preservation, built a fort around their motives to do what is best for students, even when the fiery darts of faulty suggestions pummel them.
A teacher is a master at deciphering what is good and what is bad for kids. It doesn’t take long for them to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff. When teachers’ hearts are in the right place, nothing can deter them from grabbing on to suggestions that promote a child.
It’s not complicated, really. The gauge is always the same: Will this help my students? Then, the winnowing begins, and good teachers ignore the flightiness and make something magnificent out of the good that remains.
It’s extra neat to watch young teachers embrace new ideas they feel will lead students towards enriched enlightenment. I saw it last week at Northside High when I sat down with Mr. Trowell and Ms. Abdeltif who wanted to try something new.
Mr. Trowell and Ms. Abdeltif have a special place in my heart. They started their teaching career with me in the English department at Jordan High. I watched them try and fail, learn and grow as all new teachers do. But I also will forever be inspired by their unrelenting spirit to take chances. They are the foils to the status-quo, the antithesis to teachers who have become rut-dwellers. So, when they called with a request to collaborate, I jumped at the opportunity.
We started with mere fragments of a vision, trying to piece together a new experience for their American literature students. Mr. Trowell led the charge with an end-goal in mind, so we started working backward. The aim was to invite students to choose their own, individualized pathways to reach that end-goal. For this older, not necessarily wiser English teacher, I was awakened by their youthful spirit to relinquish control.
Especially for high school English teachers, it seems, giving up control of content is a challenge. We have our favorites, and we assume our passion for Poe and love of Lowell will be contagious to our students. Class discussions of Thoreau give us goose bumps because we are masters at steering our students towards the epiphanies we had when we first read his work. It’s difficult for us to fathom a child not liking “The Scarlet Letter” or James Joyce or Langston Hughes. And so, we trudge through literature, dragging our kids along behind us.
New kids on the education block don’t operate under the same rules of drudgery. Trowell and Abdeltif are those new faces of education, the ones with a go-get-‘em mentality and a willingness to do whatever it takes to capture and captivate a student.
So, we started designing an intricate highway system where many roads led to the same destination, and a student picked a path and simply took a drive. Easily the two gave up control of content and offered their students choices that would still lead them where they needed to go.
The two challenged me. They forced me to assess whether or not I am a rut-dweller, and I am thankful for that.
It’s a misnomer to think experience is the best indicator of expertise, because sometimes youthful willingness may be just what is needed. So, I challenge you today: separate the wheat from the chaff. There are hidden treasures to find.
Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at email@example.com.