“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think” –Socrates
Tonight was easily the 40th open school night I have attended in my decades of raising children. I go now to send a message to my children about being involved in their world more than having a meaningful conversation about what they are learning. Early on, I expected some deep understanding of the learning process, their intentions and goals for their curriculum. Now I ask how the grades are structured, how much homework they will get, and I try to listen for whether the teacher likes kids.
I was involved in education reform for many years. During that time I learned a lot about education because of the learning disabilities that challenged my eldest child for many years. Those years, when education was everything, I learned much about what a real teacher looked like. The teachers who made the greatest gains with the most challenged kids were never working to add new skills, rather, their goal was about uncovering what was already there and helping to find ways to tap the skills that the kids couldn’t reach in themselves. It is an honest and faithful metaphor for real learning for all students and why Einstein said, “I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”
Too much of what we call education has nothing to do with kids discovering their own genius, it is about fulfilling lists of requirements and regurgitating information at qualified intervals. Winston Churchill once said, “Personally, I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.” I have always been devoted to finding real teachers for my children. These are the people who have often showed me what I couldn’t see in them.
Even now, I am always so thrilled when I walk into a class room that vibrates with the energy of learning. You can spot them a mile away. These teachers are infectious with both their love of learning and the way that they value inquiring minds. For them it is not work to create opportunities that open students to the world and to themselves with increased clarity and capacity. For them, this gift of true teaching is part of them like the color of their skin. They hold themselves and their students to the same high bar and usually their expectations are exceeded. It is perhaps one of the most profound acts of love: teaching that recognizes how much goodness and intelligence there is to tap.
Real teachers, the ones that shape you into your best self are never forgotten. Even as I walked the halls of the middle school that my eldest children attended over a decade ago, the teachers that taught them the power of the written word or the magic of numerical equations recognize them in their younger siblings. Entrusting your kids to these special people is a gift beyond measure and the highlight of my day was holding up my hand and giving a testimonial to these teachers’ devotion and capacity to tap the genius of the kids.
Gandhi said, “Live as if your were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” There is little else to do that really matters.