They say the days of the charismatic teacher are numbered. And while I never played the “sage on the stage” I was not above putting on a show. My supervisors pretended to be interested in individual student gains, but the real bean counting in those days was butts in the seats. In order to keep my numbers up I had to engage the students and, whenever possible, make the learning experience fun. Which it always was to me.
I will admit that adding Afro Lady, AKA Bernice, and her literacy charge, Margaret, to the mix presented a challenge to my delivery system. I found myself putting a little mustard on my lesson plans. One of my spiced up lessons is still lodged in my memory banks.
As a math teacher, I have always been a proponent of the big picture. The multitude of processes students are normally required to learn often don’t make sense in and of themselves. The intrepid student who achieves mastery of percents, ratios and proportions does come to see the interconnectedness of it all but many fall by the wayside, feeling betrayed by the system and mislead by their teacher.
Solution: Instead of slogging through to the Promised Land, start with the big picture. To that end I set myself the task of presenting the big picture all in one place-on the big chalkboard. All known processes with examples and sample problems merged into an army in white, marching across the vast field of green, encumbered by my childish scrawl but proudly bearing the flag of unity and the promise of future success. To keep things light I planned to tell the students they could leave early as soon as they mastered the board.
But my real target audience was Bernice. I counted on her arriving before the students, giving me a moment to bask in the light of my brilliant pedagogy. As to her arrival, she did not disappoint. Nor could I complain of her attention to my project. She took a long moment to look the board over, smiling and nodding, appropriately I thought.
Then she spoke. “I see you only used one side of the board. Are you going to put Algebra and Geometry on the other?”
I dropped a beat, and then said without smiling, “No I thought I might put the complete works of William Shakespeare on the backside.”
And then she said the most curious thing: “Do you know any Shakespeare?”
Have you ever hit an inside straight in poker? Or happened on a 300 point word in scrabble? Or felt as clever as Brer Rabbit when he begged Brer Fox not to throw him into his beloved briar patch?
“Do I know any Shakespeare?” Lady, you just kicked the door wide open. Game On!