’08 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow and National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) James Liou submitted this blog article that focuses on the often-neglected third R in the educational triad of Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. In this piece, he reflects on the tender moments between lessons that teachers speak wistfully to one another about.
All too often they get lost in the bigger policy discussions about public education reform: the moments of levity in class, the conversations between teacher and student or student and student that take place in all the spaces during and between instruction. That’s what teachers understand, what the best of us really love most. When we teach—even when pressed or driven by initiatives and reform—we don’t forget that it’s all about being responsive, affectionate, and motivating to students as individuals, as people. What makes teaching so challenging, exasperating, and exhilarating is that we teach students, not content.
I observed a number of these memorable interactions as I sat in on a recent high school math class in Boston:
Sitting behind a few students in this particular statistics class, one boy took a moment after the teacher’s instructions to turn to the girl next to him to say with an extra dash of gravity, “This is your future.” Smiling with preternatural adult-like concern and a mock fatherly tone. Looking back and seeing me, she responded, wide-eyed, “Oh, we’re supposed to be copying this??” to the good-natured laughter of students around her.
A few moments later, the teacher paid a compliment to a student who had clearly summarized the relationship between a fit, a residual, and the fitted value in a least-square regression problem. “I couldn’t have said it any better myself,” the teacher offered. The recipient of that complement beamed, with her head cradled in her hands, framing a giant smile. There was enough wattage there to turn the head of another girl next to her, who rolled her eyes jokingly in response.
And another connecting interaction. One student was upset about what appeared to a blood stain on her paper, likely some kind of food stain or the result of that all too common teacher injury—the dreaded papercut. She complained in class, exciting the teacher who encouraged them to take the sample to their upcoming forensics class. “Look at that!” he continued, “Be-autiful. Math and science together, like cats and dogs!” There was a mix of student smiles and groans at the enthusiasm. Two boys who sat next to me took it elsewhere. The brown-skinned student next to me quipped to his white-skinned peer, “How about black and white?” A head shake indicating mock disapproval and a full out hug given in faux, over-the-top apology. They were clearly friends joking. “You going to lunch after?” one of them said.
I didn’t even have to wait to know the answer to that one.
James Liou, NBCT
Boston Public Schools
James Liou is an ’08 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.