The magic of teaching comes not from getting a student to be able to say back to you a formula, Spanish verb conjugation, or poem by Emily Dickinson. Instead, that place of academic fireworks is the moment when a student’s passion is kindled and the need to know (how to use the formula, why to use the verb, or what it means to say that Hope is a thing with feathers) becomes so important that the inconsequential things (grades, parental pressure, peer approval) take a back seat to learning.
Teachers make this magic in a million ways: asking the right questions, showing relevance, laughing with students, and providing them room to explore, to name a few.
At the core of learning is curiosity, and education is at its best when it pushes students to discover that curiosity within themselves.
Sometimes students arrive at school filled with a desire to learn and ready to have their intellectual fire brought to life by the spark of a good teacher and the bellows of a well orchestrated lesson.
Other times students present tougher academic husks that must be trimmed away by the kindness, patience, and passion of great instructors. These young minds can be brought to flower, but it takes everything teachers can muster to bring out that desire to learn more.
For still others, curiosity is a luxury, lower in importance than safety, or survival, or respect. For some kids, school is a place to come not because they are excited to learn, but because they told they must, or because they fear the immediate consequences if they avoid it.
Learning in school for kids who have learned hard lessons outside the classroom is a trickier enterprise than it is for those who arrive loved, fed, and prepared to learn.
It is for these students, the shaggy ones, whose clothes may not be as clean or hair as well kempt, whose voices might not be clear and whose eyes may be averted, that great teachers matter the very most. It is for these students that school must be more than a place of books and computers, maps and memorization. For all students, and especially for these, school must be a place where students can be inspired to see possibility, articulate their dreams, and find the safety and sense of home that allows them to discover their curiosity and write their own futures.
The paths to that promised land are many and the guides diverse. The history teacher who introduces his students to Sojourner Truth, the math teacher who shows her students the power of numbers, and the science teacher who opens up the world of biology (which is life) with two swift slices on a frog’s belly all have the potential to infect students with a passion for learning. It’s a disease one never wants cured.
The art teacher’s pastels, the computer teacher’s code, and the band teacher’s sousaphone are all tools that can be put in a student’s hands and used to build a bright future.
Teachers and schools can nurture those dreams of incredible futures, and do so every day. Purposefully and passionately, with humor, caring, and devotion, teachers create a place in their students’ hearts where hope, that thing with feathers, can perch upon the soul.