Today I re-learned an important lesson, I re-learned the actual lesson I’ve helped to teach many times. Come to think of it, I’ve been the poster child for this lesson.
Today I observed a teacher candidate working with children in a public school classroom. This teacher candidate has been one of my weakest students this semester. This teacher candidate has had poor attendance, has seemed disconnected most of the time, has done poorly on exams, and has weakly participated during class sessions. While driving to the school this afternoon, my expectations for this teacher candidate’s ability to work with children was low.
In 1985, I sent a letter to my local school superintendent. Paraphrasing, the letter stated that if they ever needed an un-certified, un-qualified, inexperienced individual with a degree in Mathematics to teach any high school math classes, I was their man. My expectations of ever hearing a response from the superintendent was lower than low. Within 6 months, I was teaching at that school, enrolled in a PA Secondary Mathematics Teacher Certification Program, and well on my way to a career in education.
In 1990, I sent a letter to my local University Education Department. Paraphrasing, the letter stated that if they ever needed an un-qualified, inexperienced individual without a terminal degree to teach any of their education courses, I was their man. My expectations of ever hearing a response from the Education Department was lower than low. Within 6 months, I was teaching part-time as an elementary mathematics methods instructor. Within a year, I was teaching full-time. Within 3 years, I was enrolled in a doctoral program and a permanent tenure-track faculty member. Today, I am a Full Professor with a D.Ed., I am at the top of the seniority list in the Education Department, and I am finishing my 21st year as a permanent faculty member.
While driving to the public school this afternoon, my conflicting history of low expectations vs. positive results never crossed my mind. I watched in amazement as this “weak” teacher candidate deftly presented content and maintained great classroom control, all while teaching with passion and humor. This surely was not the same student from my class. My expectations had been lower than low. This teacher candidate should have slapped me, and in many ways, did.
Personal and professional reflection is interesting. It’s timeless, it’s revealing, and sometimes it’s inspiring. Today I re-learned a lesson that has been taught many times in my life and career. Today I re-learned that I’m my weakest student.