This is my space to rant and rave, vent and vex about education, my passion. I am calling it "Mining for Hidden Gems" because of the above quote and because as a teacher, my job is to look for those gems. The real valuable ones are not usually on the surface. You have to dig deep to find them.

I am also borrowing from Katherine Bomer's wonderful book Hidden Gems: Naming and Teaching From the Brilliance in Every Student's Writing. It has changed the way I look at not just student work but students themselves and all people around me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Where to stand in the classroom

I remember the moment exactly.  I was about 8 years old, standing in the kitchen of this rental house we lived in while my father was building a house for us.  My mother is at the sink and for some reason she tells me this story:  One day a man took his son to Prophet Muhammad for advice.  Apparently, the boy had a problem with overeating and could not control his intake of dates, the staple food of the desert people.  He wanted the Prophet to council his son against gluttony.  Muhammad tells the man to go away and come back the next day.  When they return the following day, Muhammad admonishes the boy and teaches him a lesson in moderation.  The grateful father is puzzled as to why this conversation could not have taken place the day before.  When he asks, Muhammad replies:  Yesterday, when you arrived, I had myself eaten a large amount of dates.  I could not, in good conscience, reprimand your son for doing something that I had done myself.

I come back to this story often.  It is my guide in my personal relationships as a friend, as a wife, a mother and a teacher.  My motto is:  You cannot ask anyone, especially children to do things that you, yourself are not willing to do.  Anything less, is hypocritical and children have a super sensitive antenna that detects hypocrisy and renders the accompanying talk completely ineffective.

When it comes to teaching, this mantra of "don't ask them to do what you won't do yourself" has become my guiding light.  I can't ask students to embrace reading as the most critical skill of their life, if I am not a critical reader myself.  I can't ask them to read widely and broadly, if I don't examine my own reading diet for variety.  I cannot possibly unleash the writer inside them, if I don't put pencil to the paper often enough to know that writing is the most complex mental task that we perform and it cannot be taught in a one-size-fit-all fashion and in isolation from reading and thinking.  How can I possibly ask my students to think mathematically or scientifically, if I don't engage in that kind of thinking? In short, I cannot be a teacher, if I am not a learner myself.  When we stand not in front of our class as someone who will impart knowledge, but instead next to our students as a fellow learner, we get closer to their ears and their hearts.  And maybe we will both learn better from each other.

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