One Teacher and a Roomful of KIds
I’m sitting in the butterfly house at the Miller Conservancy in Ohio watching dozens of beautiful species flutter about the flowers and plants and occasionally attach themselves to the screens. Children are warned not to try to catch the butterflies, but to let them alight by themselves on clothes or arms. Children are free to hold small rubber paintbrushes, on which the butterflies like to settle. The kids who wander through the butterfly house listen to the directions and touch the butterflies with their eyes but not their hands. They have questions, and they try to match the butterflies with the pictures on the plastic sheet. They try to pronounce the names of the species. It’s hard to tell which is more delightful – the butterflies or the kids.
In a couple of weeks these kids, like the butterflies, will be captured and contained within the confines of the school. No two will be exactly alike. Some will be more beautiful than others. Some will be bigger, and some will be faster. All will be delicate and easily hurt.
But let’s not get too sentimental here.
The point I want to make is this: Whatever the flaming righteous rhetoric we hear at the national and state level about policies and budget, it will all come down in a couple of weeks to a teacher in a classroom with a roomful of kids. That is the basic unit. And that single adult has the capacity to make every day a delight or every day a misery for each individual child. Whether it’s a suburban or city school, wealthy or poor, public or private or charter -- when all is said and done it’s one teacher and a roomful of children.
In a couple of weeks, during those opening meetings with teachers and administrators, there will be lots of talk about materials and supplies, curriculum, disciplinary procedures, attendance, budget, rules, and regulations. There may be little or no talk about the power of the single teacher over the self-esteem of each child he or she teaches every day. It’s easy to lose this essential concept in all the protocols and procedures and problems.
So take a few moments to remember the vulnerability and the delicacy of even the toughest kids. Remember the power one teacher has to make a kid feel valued or useless, interesting or stupid. Whatever policy makers talk about or plan at 30,000 feet, on the ground it’s still one teacher and a roomful of children. That’s where the focus and energy should be.