Saturday, March 15, 2008

Pyramid schemes ... (part one) ...

Over 25 years ago, following my second divorce, I was looking for something to do to make money, a professional venture that I could both love and be challenged by ... terrible sentence structure here, but I'm going to let it go for now (might come back at a later date to revise it, but for now it stands).

First and foremost, professionally-speaking, I am a teacher. I love to teach!

I can think of few things to equal the look of pure delight in a very young child's eyes when he/she understands/"sees" the concept/s presented.

Each child is an absolute miracle ... a wondrous gift from God.

The miracle continues as the child begins and then continues to absorb his/her surroundings.

The child learns by doing, by imitating that which he/she sees, and by exploring for himself (I'm going to be omitting the him/her he/she references in this post -- just ridiculous, anyway!) and learning as he goes (sometimes by painful personal experience -- other times by parental approval, smiles, and hugs).

How the devil does a child learn to speak, anyway? By imitating, of course, what he hears. The feedback the child gets from his first utterances reinforce his efforts.

Seriously, however, I ask you, "How can one possibly teach 'the' 'a' 'an' ... those little dinky words that mean absolutely nothing?

If I knew the answer to that question, I would tell you. I do not know the answer.

O.K. So the child has learned to speak. NOW, as the child continues to explore the world around him, he wonders why there are all of these books/newspapers/magazines around? All these materials are made of paper (feels like!), and the big people seem to spend a lot time with them, just touching and looking at them with their eyes.

Are they toys?? NO, I quickly discovered, as I grabbed one and ripped it ... I was just trying to see if I could make it move and play with it! My folks quickly grabbed whatever it was that I was trying to 'move', and said, "No!"

Another NO when I grabbed one of my prettiest crayons and tried to add some color, and yet another when I tried to run and throw it outside to see what might happen.

I spent many years teaching first grade, and far and away it was my favorite. A sixth grade teacher once asked me, "How can you stand to be around or even try and teach such a young age?" She said, "I know you love it. It's obvious. But what can you possibly get out of it?"

Boy, I didn't have to think twice about my answer. It was, "The tremendous sense of satisfaction I get at the end of the year. I've taught them how to read." "Oh, yes, now I understand," said she --and, pointing to a bunch of Greek words on the chalkboard, continued, "I get that same feeling of satisfaction when my students have memorized these words."

She hadn't understood a word of what I'd said, of course. We had a few more seconds of a less than memorable conversation, then went along about our separate business. I didn't try to explain further ... she still would not have understood. It was obvious to me that she quite liked where she was. Why have a debate?

Quite a few years later, here in Houston, actually, I had the opportunity to teach sixth grade in a private school situation. Thoroughly enjoyable. I could see why she had liked that age so much.

So why didn't I go back into teaching full-time? The answer is in two parts.

1. I was leery of teaching in Houston's public schools. (Even 25+ years ago? Yes.) Besides the obvious answer of classes being too large, I was hearing way too many first-hand stories from teachers currently in the public school system about testing, testing, and more testing ... almost forcing them to 'teach to a test', as it were. I am vehemently opposed to such a concept.

Required detailed lesson plans were a stumbling block for me, as well. Certainly, throughout my somewhat extensive teaching career, I had known that I would have to have a plan -- but 'detailed', including the exact questions you might be asking for weeks/months ahead of time?? NO!!

"All right, then," you could rightly ask, "why didn't you go back to that private school that you liked so much?" That's a fair question.

2. I couldn't support myself on a private school teacher's salary. My first teaching experience in a private school was while I was married, and my salary was not our family's only income. It's as simple as that.

I had trouble believing it!! It just sounded impossible to me. I inquired of many private schools. ALL were interested in me, but I couldn't support myself on the salaries they were offering. One even went so far as to suggest that I could take on a second job to support myself. (!!) Well, that's not the way I teach, nor should that be what they were looking for -- or, for that matter, what the parents of their students had every right to expect -- in dedicated teachers.

An ad in the newspaper struck me as kind of appealing, and I answered it.

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