Friday, October 8, 2010

What's Love Got to Do With It?

First, let me apologize for my general absence. I've yet to find my groove with our new school routines, but I'll get there. Second, poking around the New York Times web site the other day I stumbled on a discussion of education between David Brooks and Gail Collins titled "Waiting for Super Principals." Usually, I'm not a big fan of the written dialogue format, but Brooks and Collins are so easy to read I didn't mind. But in his first comment, David Brooks wrote/said this:

"I confess I don’t think either charters or teacher unions are the primary issue here (in education reform). If I had to summarize the progress we’ve made in education over the last decade, it’s that we’ve move beyond the illusion that we could restructure our way to a good education system and we’ve finally begun to focus on the core issue: the nature of the relationship between the teacher and the student.

People learn from people they love. Anything that enriches the space between a student and a teacher is good. Anything that makes it more frigid is bad. This doesn’t mean we have to get all huggy and mushy. It means rigorous instruction has to flow on threads of trust and affection."(That's my parenthetical addition in first paragraph.)

Is it just me but does the phrase "trust and affection" sound pretty mushy? Now, in elementary school, it's the case that warmth is essential for younger students. As kids get older, though, I'm not sure it's true. Teachers should love what they do and believe in the potential of each student, but I don't think love is the answer here.

For me, personally, the most effective high school teacher I had was the most terrifying. Her nickname was "Dr. Demon." She pushed and demanded and pushed some more with not a hint of affection. I don't think she really liked any of us. Years later I saw her at synagogue, I was still terrified of her but forced myself to thank her for being such a good teacher. She had no idea who I was. Still, I learned from her. I learned a lot from her.

Then again, terror isn't the answer, either. But rigorous instruction that understands and meets the needs of the students in the room? That surely is. Love it or lump it.


Anonymous said...

Robin, this is a very interesting post. It sounds as if, even if "Dr. Demon" may not have cared about students as individuals, she cared a lot about what you learned. Could "passion" be an ingredient in effective teaching?

Robin Aronson said...

That's surely right. She had a great passion for her craft and no doubt relished her work and its quality. I don't think one can teach for a long time without that kind of driving passion -- either for children or the process of learning and teaching a specific subject. No one can be great at anything without some passion, right?