Teaching and Learning

The best way to learn is to teach.

I’ve heard this axiom all my adult life it seems.  I’m sure I first heard it from one of my middle school or high school teachers. That would make so much sense.

I accepted a Teacher Assistant job this year at Trent Lott Academy in Pascagoula. Trent Lott Academy (TLA) and it’s counterpart Singing River Academy in Gautier are designed specifically for 5th- and 6th-grade students in our public school district who are transitioning from lower elementary to upper elementary curriculum, learning modules, and testing standards.

Principal Stewart Smirthwaite (TLA) is one of the most intelligent, well-balanced, and fun-loving leaders I have ever worked with.  We have been coworkers for several years as I drove buses for our district and enjoyed morning greetings, occasional chats at district events, and a few somewhat tedious moments with a student or two.  We agree that bus drivers are as much educators as classroom teachers and administrators, as bus drivers are the ‘first face of the district’ that our bus rider children see everyday, and — the last.  All our roles are critically important to the child’s daily learning experience.

So, now that I am in the classroom setting, the perspective has shifted a bit.  I get to see first-hand the daily progression as our students move from first-time greetings of new friends, to next levels of study and curriculum, to more challenging solutions and outcomes — all within the context of growing up as preteens in a most complex and diverse world.

The role of teaching is one of tremendous responsibility. And quite humbling at this grade level. Children, in general, are filled with loads of sugar-induced energy, which can quickly turn to exhaustion, which can wildly turn to impatience, which can immediately turn to distraction, which can become …. who knows what?!.  All in about two minutes!  Factor in a range of emotional influences in our society such as entertainment, competition sports, and puberty!

[[ pause for third cup of coffee … and, I’m ADHD … so, pardon the interruption ]]

Where was I … oh yes, #influences.

So, what about influence?  Who are the influencers in the lives of children each day?  Who cares enough to offer influence?  Good, or bad?  We all know that electronic devices are now a 24/7 influence.  Like it or not.

One of my mentors, Simon Sinek, has written and spoken quite prolifically about the influence of electronic media on the current generation of #millennials and #nexGen young people.  Another excellent mentor is Dr. Tim Elmore, who coaches and consults those of us in education, ministry, and coaching.

Children learn from what they see, hear, and feel. They model the actions, behaviors, and attitudes that their parents, grandparents, guardians, teachers, ministers, entertainers, superstar athletes, and other leaders express. They are watching, listening, and experiencing.

With one full week of teaching in the bag, I realize all over again just how urgent and important it is that I continually learn. Learn from my superiors. Learn from my peers. Learn from my students.

Children are a ‘heritage’ from the Lord, scripture teaches.  If that is so, we must do our utmost to inspire, motivate, protect, and nurture the minds of the children whom the Lord himself has placed in our paths.  Our futures, and theirs, are at stake.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is dispair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy; — St. Francis of Assisi

The Arrow

So, I did a thing last week.

I accepted an offer to fill the role of Teacher Assistant in our local public school district. I am super excited!  I have known the principal who hired me for several years and we have forged a really cool friendship, though he is at least 25 years younger.  His faculty is one of the best in our district, and we have walked through some really amazing victories together, as well as a few very heavy valleys which have affected the lives of our students, their families, and our entire community.

I have considered this move for quite a while, and especially since I began the process of completing my studies for a Bachelor’s degree … at the age of 55!

At this age, most people have determined their likes and dislikes, preferences, and behaviors.  And, no one really likes to change.  Well, almost no one.  I am one of those very interesting (and sometimes frustrating) adult ADHD specimens who is always looking, and seeking, and pursuing, and discovering, and inquiring.  I have ‘words’, as my sweet quiet introvert wife Sheryl will attest.  Lord that woman has patience with me!

This week, during a personal development seminar, a very good friend and mentor showed me the famous FedEx logo and asked me if I saw ‘the arrow’ in the logo. At first, I did not.  So I looked again. And again. And again. Then suddenly, voila!  I could ‘see’ it!  Can you?

Sometimes, we don’t see things clearly.  For whatever reasons, sometimes life throws so many curves and unexpected challenges our way, that we simply cannot see the forest for the trees.  There are times when we need the help of others to see things differently.  I know that for me, I need the help of God, the help of His Spirit — daily — in order to see things differently than I have seen things before.

So when I finally did ‘see’ the arrow, it immediately conjured in my mind many references to the word arrow.

From my church upbringing, I have heard many times the scripture passage, “As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.” – Psalm 127:4

UsingEnglish.com states:  An arrow in the quiver is a strategy or option that could be used to achieve your objective.

A quick search of Bible scriptures results in more than 50 references to the word — arrow(s).

Arrows are implements of archery.  With nearly every reference in scripture, in language arts, in poetry, the word arrow almost always signifies the delivery of a message, or a warning, or a route towards an objective or goal.

Children are like arrows. Children are a heritage of the Lord, scripture promises.  Children become youth.  In their youth, or adolescent years, they begin to experience mental, emotional, and physical change. They are on a journey. They are moving towards early adulthood. They are beginning to ‘see’ things in a different way than before.

As parents and as educators of adolescent youth, it becomes crystal clear to most of us, that we have an enormous responsibility to nurture, and to guide, and to prepare our children for an ever changing and ever daunting world, which is filled with wonder, with adventure, with danger, and with opportunity.

To borrow from the imagery of archery, we must work diligently and daily, to prepare these young arrows with every possible resource.  For very soon, they will be chosen by our brave and victorious warrior King, the Lord Himself; and He will set them in his bow, aim them strategically towards the target He has set forth for them to attain, and empower us to release them out into their own brave new adventures.  And for what universal cause?  For what eternal reason?  For what earthly purpose?

To change their world. To make their parents gleam with gladness. To affirm their educators with deep fulfillment. To inspire their peers.

Or, as my sweet introvert wife always says to her own natural born babies, as well as to her classroom babies, “… now, I want you to go and make a difference …”