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 Short Bus

So, most of my friends and family know that I drive a school bus for our local public school district.  I have enjoyed that job, off and on, for more than 30 years.  I am Commercial licensed and like to drive all sorts of buses and RV coaches for churches, for tourists, for entertainers.  I am a wandering spirit, so I love to “go”, and especially enjoy the drive.

I am a Substitute Driver which means I “sub” for regular route drivers who call in sick, or take vacation or personal days off.  This week I drove the “short bus”, as we once called it during my school days.  Today we call it the SPED (Special Education) bus.  These select buses are specially equipped with seat belts, anchor straps for wheelchairs, and hydraulic lifts for wheel chairs.  Plus a few other small safety features and dashboard buttons to remember as a driver.

The students assigned to these buses range from learning disabilities to physical and emotional limitations.  Most of these students in our district are beautifully gifted children who show extravagant love towards their caregivers, teachers, and transportation helpers.

My helper this week — Bus Monitor (by title) — is Ms. Ann.  The students on my bus love Ms. Ann.  And she loves them.  They have a very special bond because she has watched many of them grow up from babies to elementary, middle, and now high school age.  Ms. Ann knows most of their families, and the various challenges they face.  Ms. Ann might as well be Mother Teresa in their little minds, because she loves and cares for every one of them unconditionally.  And, when necessary, she can ‘draw the line’ so that they know what is appropriate behavior, and what is not.  We all love Ms. Ann.

I know some of the stories of these students and their families as well.  I look into the eyes of parents and grandparents of these students every morning at dawn and in the afternoons.  I see the sleepless nights, the weary wondering, the tiredness in their faces.  I feel the ache in their tired voices and in their bones as they slowly, but methodically help their little loved ones onto and off the bus every day.

But, I see Love. I see the unconditional, never-ending love for God’s gift to them. These beautiful boys and girls who will not get the education, the nurture, and the chance they deserve, if not for the love of these champions called mama, daddy, teacher, coach, principal, bus monitor, bus driver, and caregiver.

I also see Jesus.

I see Him when I watch the way the mamas and daddies carefully and gently hug, affirm, and speak gentle, yet firm instructions and guidance to their special babies.  I see Him when I look into their sleepy eyes every morning, as I wonder what they are thinking about with yet another ‘new day’ to live and learn and dream.  I see Him when these babies recognize their mamas and daddies at the end of the day.  I see Him when they sing along to Ms. Ann’s fun songs and laugh at her funny stories.  I see Him when they tell me, “good morning”, or “bye-bye”, each day.

I see Jesus on the short bus. I see Jesus in Ms. Ann.  I see Jesus in the eyes of educators and coaches and principals.  I see Jesus in my coworkers and administrators in the Pascagoula-Gautier School District.

I love driving the “short bus”.  Thank you God, for letting me see Jesus this week … on the “short bus”.