The best education has always come when students are motivated by curiosity and push themselves to know more. I saw it in my classroom when I taught English: in the student inspired by the literature and single minded in her desire to understand Sylvia Plath, in the student driven to comprehend the choices Toni Morrison made when writing The Bluest Eye. Sometimes the learning was directly related to the lesson at hand, sometimes it was tangential. In both cases it was real, meaningful to the student, and the starting point of lifelong learning.
In the heart of summer, on the first leg of a July road trip, this exuberance to know more showed itself in my two kids’ ambition to collect sand dollars and ask questions about what these small things really were. They scrambled after the round shells like pirates after scattered doubloons, and as I watched the search unfold, I was struck by how similar their faces were to that student crouched over The Bell Jar, and how excited I am to see this same kind of curiosity when students get back on campus in the fall.
My middle school students won’t be after sand dollars, of course, but how to draw portraits, design rockets out of bottles, write code, and a hundred other things I can’t yet imagine. It’s my goal to help foster the community of curiosity at Diegueño Middle School, where students and the adults who work with them can find their passions, make connections, and have the support to follow their interests.
They’ll have teachers who inspire them along the way, blowing on the embers of curiosity to rouse the fire of learning. Like nurturing parents these teachers will create an atmosphere in the classrooms they share with students that encourage exploration, honor questions, and provoke curiosity. It’s this transformative work in the classroom that is education, the capturing of that curiosity so natural in kids and harnessing it to help the students do great things.
Now, in July, the classrooms where these adventures will begin are empty, but the teachers are already at work. Some are writing curriculum, some are reading books and articles, and some are engaging colleagues from around the country at conferences and edchats. Others, like me, are taking a little time to recharge and get perspective, to play, to go for a hike, and to take that deep collective breath before we all start running across that metaphorical beach looking for whatever our own sand dollars may be.