Caring at core of teaching

By Clyde Davis: Freedom columnist

Another school year is drawing to a close. Another crop of new graduates, preparing to enter either the world of work, the world of college, or the world of the military — in many cases, more than one of the above worlds.

Another two-plus month break for educators, in the mind of the general public. I qualify that because every teacher knows that it just isn’t so.

There’s a break, but also a lot of planning and preparation, assessing and evaluating, to be done. Lessons learned from this year improve next year.

Who were the teachers you learned the most from, the ones who equipped you for survival? Conversely, from whom did you learn what not to be, to do, to think or behave?

Negative learning — who I don’t want to be, as an educator — I attribute to Dr.Timmerman, our sophomore English teacher at Grove City College.

Because he was young, athletic, and had pitched college baseball, we decided to ask him to play for our softball team. Since I was going to be his catcher, I led the way to his office, with Roger, Rich and Stevie behind.

Whoa, talk about sacred ground. You’d have thought we crossed the demilitarized zone when we entered his office, basically to be told that if we didn’t have anything better to do with our time than to annoy him during office hours, we needed to get a life.

We got a life, figuring out ways to get under his skin and on his nerves for the rest of spring semester. As for pitching, Rich’s pinpoint control alternating with Roger’s wild fastballs carried us just fine, keeping our opponents consistently on edge. Your loss, Timmerman. Hope you got a life.

Lesson learned — I will never treat a student’s concerns or issues as insignificant or unimportant. If it matters enough for them to talk to me about, it matters enough for me to at least listen and attend to.

Other lessons learned:

I will never break a student’s confidentiality.

Though it has never happened to me, I have heard of situations involving information shared in confidence with a teacher, only to have that information spread around like Weed‘n’Feed. It may not seem confidential to you, but if the student is self conscious over it, that should be enough.

I will never mock a student, nor grade him or her on beliefs and opinions.

When the subject areas are like those I teach — English, philosophy, religion — this can become particularly important. Writing a paper that echoes everything I believe, but is poorly written, is still not the way to get an “A” or “B” paper. Conversely, disagreeing with everything I hold as opinion, but making a successful presentation, still earns the top grade.

There are more; we learned, all of us, from teachers who set the example, or in some cases, the negative example.

There’s a maxim I heard once that still holds true — “They won’t care to learn until they learn that you care.”

Kudos to all of the dedicated teachers, whatever your grade level, whatever your style.