I always get that bubbly, fizzy excitement in my heart when I see and hear good teaching. When it’s really good, those bubbles fizz and I can’t help the smiles that drip out of my eyes. This goes for good teaching, period. I’m more impressed when a teacher can teach me something I don’t already know—something obscure, seemingly mundane or altogether abstract. It’s like watching a quilter work through patches to create a piece you never could have conceived until their completion. Whether the project is thoughtfully prescribed or altogether organic—the exchange of information through teaching and learning is a powerful portal. Learning is a feeling that gives me great satisfaction.
In the past I have been impressed with both traditional and non-traditional teachers. Most recently, I’ve delved back into episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I showed it to our own two children to give them a historical perspective and a comparison to the modern-day Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. They were hooked. Yesterday, our son put on a sweater my mother gave him and proclaimed that he was Mr. Rogers. As we were leaving for church, our daughter sang, “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” as she buttoned her coat.
I love the way Wynton Marsalis teaches. His talent as a musician is other-worldly, but I’m much more impressed with his ability to convey his passion through his own learned experience and research. He weaves history lessons into his Jazz at Lincoln Center concerts. He did this deliberate education even more thoroughly in a series tailored for children called Marsalis on Music.
In another documentary-type presentation, I remember one jam session where he essentially did a workshop with young musicians. I was so impressed with his ability to connect with the young musicians and meet them where they were. He had a profound understanding of not only their instrument, but after hearing them play, he understood exactly what their strengths were and specifically what they needed to do to improve. He was the consummate professional—it was clear he was an expert on the subject matter but what was most impressive was that he conveyed what he knew in a delicate, relational way. It had to be relational, because much of what they were doing and had to learn as musicians was heart-work. It was learning how to convey emotion through their instrument. He was working with talented and skilled musicians and the challenges that they faced were not as much technical as they were emotional. He might as well have had a couch…
He taught in a way that made you “pull-for” his pupils. It was beautiful.
It happened again today.
She walked in 5 minutes early. Our guest speaker was a fellow student, a Sixth Grader who had come to share her experiences with our Kindergarten class who has been “traveling” (on an imaginary trip) throughout South Africa.
She was confident. She noticed and took advantage of her surroundings right away. She did the first thing great teachers do—she listened.
We were teaching our students a lesson about coins and their values.
She came to speak about her travel experience in South Africa.
Moments into her presentation, I quickly jotted an email to her teacher—
She’s so composed. And flows effortlessly moment to moment not dissuaded or thrown by what can be the randomness of a K audience. So encouraging and warm. I feel like I’m with a learner-colleague more than a student. She’s a wonder! The conversation is so rich and I’m so proud they recognize much of what she’s saying. Thank you for allowing this exchange. So thrilled! So proud! I’m gonna blog about her but wanted to share my joy with you now.
That email got passed along to her once she returned to class, and of course to her parents.
She owned the room, and it’s no small feat. I’ve seen classrooms fall apart at the hand of some adults—I’ve had classrooms fall apart!
She’s done this before—a leader among her own peers, she has taken the lead on conducting surveys when a sea of Sixth Grade leaders stood before our class. A leader among leaders! What I most enjoy seeing is how she seamlessly breaks down large concepts to our young learners. Her ability in this area made me think she must have younger siblings at home—she doesn’t.
She came prepared not just with her experience, and knowledge but also with a PowerPoint. She spoke about the length of her travel, the places she visited, and the places that really resonated with her. She wove what we were learning about coins into her own presentation when she noted: “I see you all were learning about coins, do you know what the money in South Africa is called?”
“RAND!” our students exclaimed.
“Wow! You guys really know a lot!”
She was warm, encouraging and enthusiastic.
Literally, everything you would want in a classroom teacher.
Twice I think I fought back tears—our students were excited to learn with her and excited to share what they had learned. Being a witness to this great exchange held us captive to what our students had already retained. She packed a quiz into her PowerPoint (that’s teacher-talk for “the Sixth Grade student built in a check for understanding”)—they got all the questions right! We got to be proud on all the levels!
Elegant, composed. Does she get that bubbly-fizz when she engages in and leads that information-exchange? My heart hoped she would be a teacher—it does every time I speak with her. It is clearly a gift. I wonder if she can see it. Feel it.
And while I know those of us that teach have a myriad of pathways behind us—it truly is the greatest gift, the best gig, the place of joy, the exchange of information, the connections of dots, lines, blurs, the heart to heart warmth, the firing of neurons, the bursting of others!
Oh, I hope she’d find her home in this joy—even if just for today, because today—she was a rock star!