“Complicated rules to adjust behavior are a weak substitute for simple principles.”
This quote by Mary Wollstonecraft is one of my favorites and has guided me throughout my years in teaching. It was not long after I began my career that I discovered that the teaching profession is full of complicated rules, complicated programs, and complicated projects. They were usually a part of someone else’s complicated agenda and almost always had an acronym. (STAR, CAHSEE, SDAIE, etc.) But one cannot accommodate all these complicated rules and still be an effective teacher. So I learned early on to trust to simple principles.
One of those simple principles is this: All students want to learn, whether or not they consciously know it. The desire to learn is there, often buried deep inside their humanity. Teachers have the task uncovering that desire, seeking for it as for a hidden treasure.
There is an ancient parable told of a merchant who sought after rare and costly pearls. Once day he found a pearl of a great price so he sold all that he had and bought it. We teachers are like the merchant. Only we do not have to seek out the pearls – they come to us. Everyday they walk through our doors, enter our classrooms, and sit in our desks, these pearls of great price that we call students.
With some students, the treasure is apparent, like golden apples ready to fall off a laden tree. Every part of them says, “Here I am. Teach me.” We love to have these students in class. But there are other students who do not look like pearls. Everything about them proclaims, “There is no treasure here. All I will show you is a rough mottled shell, shut tight and buried deep.” Sometimes I have been tempted to leave them alone in their darkness.
But then I remember the principle that all students want to learn. All students want to grow and understand. More importantly, they want to know who they are. They ask, “Am I someone worthy? Do I have value? Is there someone willing to do whatever it takes to connect with the human inside? Am I a pearl of great price?”
A teacher is someone who says, “Yes!”