Friday, January 30, 2015

Stretching Minds, Creating Hearts

As I plowed through the last six essays to grade and sent out a few friendly e-mails for students to better watch deadlines this semester, I'm amazed at all the changes in the classroom.

I was a frightened novice my first few weeks of class. I talked confidently, and smiled a lot. I say that with an embarrassed tone in my voice, but at least I had the enthusiasm to carry into each lesson while I yawned constantly (oh, pregnancy!!). I survived teaching with a virus that would not leave, my husband's horrible schedule, getting used to Grace's new schedule, and the general uphill battle of a new job.

But I loved it, and I tried harder every week. My students gave me positive feedback, asking questions and participating in class. Other days, I lectured and had to prod them, reminding them that class is interdependent, and the Socratic Method. I have taught thesis statements to 5th-12th graders, and graded hundreds of essays. I've cheered and grumbled over students' work, prayed for them, and - probably - care too much. Grading is easier, and the work - overall - is much better.

This is how I feel in class:

This is (more likely) how I look:

I was especially struck by my younger students when I was grading their Civil War quizzes - there was a question: Write 1-2 paragraphs in response to: “Has your understanding of the War Between the States changed over the past two weeks? If so, how?”

One student wrote:
“In addition to expanding my knowledge of the Civil war, my opinion changed on who's fault the war was. I at first thought it was the South, but now I realize that both the Union and the Confederacy both played a role in The Civil War. It is important to try to see both sides of an argument, and this history class is helping me with that greatly.”
Students wrote phrases like, "Now I realize I should have looked at the whole picture" and "I understand better now!" while they expounded on what they learned, like the different issues, strategies, and people involved. Then, of course, there are always going to be the students who didn't learn anything and their mind didn't change because they have "very strong opinions on the subject"

... okay. Humble pie moment for me, I suppose. ((Every day is a work in progress.))

For a majority of the students, I am so pleased to see real mind growth. I love seeing improvement. This is why I love teaching so much.

There is so much in the visual world that encourages simplified thinking. It's easier to box people or events up - easier to "sell a story" this way. I saw it when I was a journalist - the seduction of clickbait.

Then, there is the doing. The talking, the question-asking, the reading. There is the curiosity, the aha-moments. This week in US History, we spent the whole class on Theodore Roosevelt's presidency.  I had such a great time creating this lecture and discussing the idea of servant leadership with the kids.

A servant leader is someone who does not believe any task or person is beneath him/her. They strive for the greatness of the cause, not the honors it could bestow. 

As I teach this class, I like drawing distinctions to different leadership styles. TR's is definitely one of my favorites, because it requires a taste of dust now and then - being thrown to the back of the line, or off the horse, or not receiving the recognition of distinction perhaps due. It requires pride in self, and humility. It is a difficult leadership style, especially if affirmation is desired. (I know it's one of my love languages!)

The other ingredient of servant leadership is being willing to lead, even if that is not where you were aiming. I always think of Father Benedict (as Pope Benedict XVI now prefer to be called) as the pinnacle of servant leadership - a man who rose through his virtues, not his desire for power. A man who sought to education and enlighten people's hearts to God, and wrote extensively for the glory of God. He tried to retire so many times on his road to the papacy, and we were blessed to have him for even a few short, sweet years.

Even if my students do not remember all their lessons from this class, I hope they remember the valor of virtue and morality, in leadership and in servitude.


  1. I just finished reading a book on Andrew Jackson and I really, really loved it. It definitely reminded me of the need to look at the bigger picture, and both sides of the story, especially as it pertains to historical figures. They were real people with strengths and flaws, extremely complex. Often in history books or the study of history, people are portrayed as catacitures, either the good guy or the bad guy and not as a whole person. I wonder how that affects our understanding of the people around us, not just history. I think it fosters judgement of the whole person and a less compassion.

    Also, I learned Teddy Roosevelt highly respected and tried to emulate Jackson. ;)

    1. Absolutely!!

      Jackson, really? Teddy Roosevelt is better known for emulating Lincoln, but I am sure he drew on the wisdom of many past presidents!

  2. And good for you for fostering such understanding and thinking skills in your students! It sounds like you're a great teacher and you are doing important work! God bless you!

  3. I can tell how much you enjoy teaching and care about your students from the way you talk about it! Just remember that you get joy from it, especially in the times where the grading just goes on and on for forever :)