Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything one learned in school.
I read this quote in one of my grad class readings, and it has since stuck with me and resonated with my current mindset toward teaching. Let´s be honest here… do we remember all those math lessons? Do we remember how our teachers taught us to read? Do we remember spelling tests? No. Does that mean we are not educated? No.
When I think about my own elementary school memories, I remember the field trips, my teachers’ many smiles and words of encouragement (or that one teacher that never stopped yelling…), and the art shows where our work was framed by construction paper and hung on the bleachers. I remember my mom walking me to and from school (and requiring me to complete all homework right after school before playing outside — what torture that was back then!!). I remember the obstacle courses in P.E. and that day we played with the huge parachute (Remember those?? My favorite part was making it puff up so high it seemed to touch the gym ceiling and then everyone would run around under it trying to be the first to ”catch” it.).
Notice my memories are not about how I learned to read… or where I got my number sense… or how I learned science or social studies. I forgot the individual lessons, the monthly units.
But what remains is my education. I can read. I can write. I have enough of a grasp on math that I can budget, figure out my gas mileage, and balance a checkbook. It’s the teachers (and my parents : )) who saw where I was at as a kindergartner, a 2nd grader, a 4th grader, etc., and they refused to leave me there. Step by step, each teacher led me into a love of reading and a sense of numbers.
Einstein’s words has permeated my current approach toward working with my students. Sure, there are discouraging days, but I keep asking myself what I want them to remember about Miss Siscoe´s classroom. I want them to remember that I never gave up, that I always knew how to help them (and if I didn’t know, I tried until I found a way.), that I smiled a lot. I want them to remember some of my crazy earthquake stories and that I also listened to their stories. I want them to remember that we worked hard to read and write our best. I want them to remember responsibility, kindness, and thinking of others first.
That’s a lot to ask for when the State of Illinois and the United States of America want to see those test scores, test scores, and nothing but the test scores… About this time of year, test scores are stressing U.S. teachers out, as I am becoming acquainted with firsthand this school year.
So there’s a tug of war. Do I focus on the test scores? Do I focus on the students’ smiles? Do I focus on the data? Do I focus on the students’ need to understand what they are reading? Do I focus on teaching the ”how-to” for taking multiple-choice tests? Do I focus on the students’ need to learn to use the calculator as a tool to help them when they get stuck?
No matter what tug of war I am in, I resolve to teach what truly matters, because at the end of the school year, Einstein would say that it’s not about whether the kids remember what I taught for ”the test”… It’s about how they remember who I required them to be — their absolute best.