Sunday, June 6, 2010

In praise of GREAT teachers...........

Rob at The Hammock Papers, commenting about one
of Kurt's posts, wrote the following:

"In teaching kids to write, I try to inspire them to be still long
enough for these opportunities to be realized. It takes a while.
Persistence pays. Creative work, after all, is still work...........
As a father and as a teacher I have a responsibility to show
kids the world and guide them through the process of making
the decisions that influence their existence in the world.
Asking questions.
I teach.
I learn.
Associate.
Be aware of perception.
Try to understand."

Reading his post, I thought, 'I bet he is a great teacher'. Made
me think of some of my great teachers. People who made me
want to stretch, to grow, to think for myself, to be different
today than I was yesterday.

Made me think of Bob Toplin, who years ago taught a course
at Denison University called Latin America, Evolution or
Revolution. Twice a week Toplin would lecture on a topic for
two hours. The first hour he would present the right-wing
viewpoint on a specific political or economic topic. The second
hour he would present the left-wing viewpoint on the same topic.
Bless his heart, each point of view was delivered with the passion
and enthusiasm of a true believer. His arguments for each side
were well-reasoned, supported by evidence, and believable
enough to be the TRUTH.

A conundrum for students who had spent a career of
regurgitating professors' beliefs and feeding those beliefs
back to them. With Toplin, we never knew what he believed.
Most importantly, he did not care what we thought.....as long as
we did the actual hard work of thinking for ourselves. A great
teacher.

My other son Connor just finished his junior year at Tri-Valley
High School. While very ready for school to be over for the
summer, he happily acknowledges that his junior year was his
best year (he adds, 'so far'). I suspect that one of the reasons
for this is Mr. Stillwell. Mr. Stillwell gave his Chemistry class
an unusual assignment. They had to make a video for class
presentation that, while including some things that they had
learned about Chemistry, was not limited to Chemistry. Lots
of latitude was given. If I understand the situation correctly,
Mr. Stillwell was asking them to stretch, to grow, to be
different today, to 'color outside the lines'.

So, Connor and friends created their video. If you are
waiting to learn Chemistry, be patient. I got captured by the
creativity, the free thinking, and the notion that learning is
often exploration- who knows where it leads. Mr. Stillwell
did as well- he gave them high marks.

God bless a generous and supportive teacher. Here is the
video. Enjoy. (click on the video to enlarge it or click here
if there are issues with viewing)



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