BE THE STREAM AND NOT THE ROCK

Last week, in each of my three classes, we were covering some extremely difficult material.   The students came to class well prepared for the most part.   They did a good job of analyzing and discussing the issues.   They came up with reasonable solutions.    They were certainly not perfect but they demonstrated a solid understanding of some truly complicated concepts.   I was proud of them.   They had come a long way.

We are now down to the last few days of the semester.   I was extremely happy to see such a good effort here near the end.   Even a grump like me had to be pleased.   Virtually every student in class had demonstrated a real improvement since we began back in August.   They not only knew more financial accounting but, just as importantly to me, they knew more about how to be good students.  

At times like these, I am always reminded of a quote that I heard a number of years ago, one that I think is terribly relevant to teaching:   "In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins--not through strength but by perseverance."   Every semester I set out to be the stream.

In other words, no matter how frustrated I get with my students during the semester, if I keep my long-term goals in mind and if I pound on the students day in and day out to get to that goal, I WILL WIN.   I will simply wear down their resistance and teach them how to do what I want them to do.  

As long as I keep them moving toward the goals, we will get there. 

Okay, I never have a 100 percent success rate.   If a student sets out to fail, there is not much I can do about that.   However, most students really do not want to fail.   They would actually like to learn the material (at least at some level) and make a decent grade.  

To me, then, the only real question is whether I will get them to do what I want them to do so that they will learn the material and get that decent grade.

And the answer is:   "In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins--not through strength but by perseverance."

I am convinced, when the students walk in on the first day of the semester, that I am the stream and they are the rocks and I will get them to learn what I think they need to know because I am going to stay focused on my long term goals.   To be a good teacher you need that extreme level of perseverance (or maybe “infinite patience” is a better way to put it).   Perseverance is a great help in becoming a good teacher.  

If you have read my blog previously, you know that I always have two long-term goals right from the beginning of each semester:

--On the last day of class, I want my students to say “I never knew I could work so hard, I never knew I could learn so much, I never knew I could think so deeply, and it was actually fun.”

--On the last day of class, I want my students to say “I understand this material so well that I can solve problems without needing the teacher.”  

I think those are educational goals worth achieving.   They make people better.   However, your goals may be radically different than mine.   That is absolutely fine.   I just feel like these two goals work best for me.   You need to determine what goals work best for you.

I also have facilitating goals that I use to help the class get to my long-term goals.  

--Every day, I want my students to come to class adequately prepared based on specific assignments that I have given them previously.   If they are not prepared, I am upset with them.

--Every day, I want my students to participate by analyzing new situations I pose in class.   I want their knowledge to always be pushing into new and unknown territory.  

--Every day, I want my students to go beyond memorization to achieve a level of understanding that allows them to solve questions and problems at a deeper level.

--After class, I want my students to organize the material that has been covered that day to help them come to a more concrete level of knowledge.   I don’t want them to quit when they just have “jello knowledge” but to keep working until they have a solid understanding.   Most student leave class with a squishy level of knowledge (jello knowledge) that requires more thought, work, and organization before it is truly solid.  

Does it work?   At first, of course not.   But, that’s normal; that is no reason to give up.  If I keep pushing them and guiding them and working on their mistakes, they gradually improve.   Learning is a slow, methodical process.   My only concern is whether I can get them to my goals by the last day of the semester.   And I have a strong belief that "In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins--not through strength but by perseverance."   Keep pushing and they will make it.  

Always!

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