“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
-The Internet, although often attributed to Benjamin Franklin or Confucius. Quote Investigator is fairly certain original credit goes to Xunzi (Xun Kuang), a Confucian philosopher who lived in the third century B.C.E., with the quote:
“Not having heard of it is not as good as having heard of it. Having heard of it is not as good as having seen it. Having seen it is not as good as knowing it. Knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice. Learning arrives at putting it into practice and then stops . . .”
-Xunzi, Xunzi: The Complete Text, chapter 8: “The Achievements of the Ru” (translated by Eric L. Hutton, Princeton University Press, 2014.)
Chelsea hadn’t called in several months. As usual, her first thought was to check through the obituaries.
No, that Mrs. Wilson wasn’t old enough. That one was too old, and had lived in Newark. And that wasn’t an obituary -but was the Excellence in Education Award winners from twenty years ago.
She’d contributed a quote for that: “In all my years of school, including high school and college, I’ve never learned as much as I did in Mrs. Wilson’s class.”
Chelsea was a better writer now. She was also a mother of six boys. In Mrs. Wilson’s class, however, she’d been a bit of a trouble-maker. She’d written her own spelling lists, vowed to read the entire classroom library, built skyscrapers of the hand-me-down Lego sets, and nearly kicked Stupid Sally in the face after first chucking sand in it. Sally had grabbed Chelsea’s foot during a biased slide game; everyone ganging up to remove her from the top.
Not all recesses ran that way. No -Mrs. Wilson spent those special times with only her class, teaching jacks and double-dutch and kickball.
Ah, kickball. Chelsea remembered. Mrs. Wilson, blue-veined, bumpy legs in socks and long shorts, out there running and kicking with the best. They’d even held a teachers v. students game. The score had been close.
“Well, hello.” Mrs. Wilson sounded much the same as she had thirty years before. “I’m always surprised when a call comes through. I’m in Arizona.” Nearly blind and still traveling.
Chelsea smiled, remembering other calls; answered from England, Yellowstone, Las Vegas, California. She had a postcard from Antarctica and another from Nepal.
Of course, Arizona was as far as Mrs. Wilson went these days. The rest of her year Mrs. Wilson passed in her one-bedroom apartment with Alexa and the television for company. Chelsea knew, because they’d had conversations where Mrs. Wilson spelled Alexa’s name when she referred to it. No sense activating the eavesdropping electronic wonder during a discussion that didn’t include it.
“I’ve had my baby,” Chelsea said. “He’s another dark-haired, dark-eyed model.”
“Oh, wonderful. And how old is he? How do his brothers like him?”
Of all the things to talk about: seeing the Himalayas in person, flying across the Atlantic near-annually, or achieving Mrs. Wilson’s life goal of standing on the southernmost continent on Earth -she only ever asked after people. Amazingly, Mrs. Wilson also remembered everyone.
“How if your brother doing? Is he finished with medical school? How are the triplets?” Give Mrs. Wilson any name and she’d remember. Give her a Christmas and she had gifts lined up based on interests. “I found these darling carved bears one year, and Gunner loves bears so I decided to get them for him and his brothers.” Gunner, naturally, was one of Mrs. Wilson’s growing collection of great-grandchildren and great-great nephews and nieces.
As they spoke, Chelsea pictured Mrs. Wilson. Today, the backdrop was a ranchhouse in the middle of a Sedona nowhere. Well -that would be the view if Mrs. Wilson hadn’t lost most of her vision. Ten acres rested barely within range of a cell phone call.
“We’ll be leaving soon,” Mrs. Wilson said. “I’m packed and will be back home by next week.”
Back home, Mrs. Wilson sat amongst her life. It was an apartment Chelsea loved visiting and pictured herself retiring to, when she could retire like Mrs. Wilson. A small couch and recliner huddled amongst myriad books, a bison skull, petrified wood, Moqui marbles, Indonesian masks, a silk-paper calendar, unique dice, a lovespoon, and hand-carved Mancala boards. It was a simple place for a simple life, one that revolved around teaching, family, and travel.
“That sounds good,” Chelsea told her former teacher. “Travel safely.”
“Take care of those boys.”
“I will. Goodbye.”
Chelsea held the cell phone in her hand, a device that hadn’t existed in her elementary years. How many more conversations would she have with Mrs. Wilson? How many more trips? How many visits?
She looked at her newborn son. Really, she knew, it was the conversations they’d already had that mattered. The real question was, what would the next thirty years look like for Chelsea and her growing family? Would she make it to Antarctica?
If you haven’t met Pete Springer yet, you are in for a treat. Genuinely kind and encouraging, driven to recognize and appreciate others, and humble to a fault; he is the sort of human we need representing our species should aliens ask to speak with our leader.
What does that have to do with people calling him “Mom?” Pete worked as an elementary school teacher for 31 years. After retirement, he wrote a book. And, I read it.
In true Pete fashion, he wrote in order to help others. His non-fiction They Call Me Mom is chock-full of advice and instruction for teachers of all levels. He’s included plenty of his own experiences, admonitions, and the occasional touching or humorous anecdote.
One story, about a girl from a family being raised by a single mother, brought me to happy-tears. That same story is also on his blog: “The Trip.” There’s a bit of a name change of the protagonist, but the gist of the story is that a cute, little second-grader informs Mr. Springer that she is saving all of her money in order to take her family on a trip.
I also enjoyed reading about Pete’s mishaps before discovering he wanted to be a teacher, including stints as a tree-planter and Olympics event ticket-seller. His mishaps after discovering teaching are equally entertaining but, naturally, more heart-warming.
With every anecdote, Pete masterfully turns the events and morals to a life lesson. The man simply exudes being a teacher; he can’t seem to help it.
If that weren’t enough, Pete agreed to answer a few questions:
1. You have a lot of advice in your book. If you could give a new teacher only three tips, what would they be? A. Believe that you do have the power to make a difference. Some child is going to go on to do great things because of you. What an amazing feeling and immense responsibility! B. I can’t take credit for this one, but I believe it with all my heart: Maya Angelou—”I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” C. If I could, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat with one change—look after yourself as well as you do your students. If you don’t take care of yourself, then you can’t help them.
2. Many male teachers prefer higher grades or positions of authority. Did you ever regret staying in elementary school? Never. Everyone has to find the right age for himself/herself. I seriously thought about becoming a principal, but I would have missed having my own classroom too much and hanging out with “my kids” each day. It was like being part of a big family. I could have taught middle school, high school, or even college, but I felt like I could impact the most people by teaching elementary school.
3. With both you and your wife teaching, did you find a work/life balance more difficult? Having a spouse in the same profession was a good thing because both of us knew exactly how the other was feeling when one of us had a bad day. Sometimes we felt like talking about it, and other times we didn’t. My wife and I laughed a lot together, and there were times we’d end up in hysterics over some of the absurdities of schools and children.
4. When do teachers use the bathroom? Next to never. I always tried to leave my room for a few minutes at lunch, but I didn’t even manage that some days. In an emergency (a couple of times a year), I might call the office or another teacher to ask them to send somebody to my room for a minute. If no one were available, sometimes we’d call another teacher who was on their break. Sometimes I brought my entire class to the next-door neighbor’s classroom for a couple of minutes when there was no other option. They could also do the same.
And, he gave us a bonus answer! Extra tidbits of wisdom: Teaching is a team effort. Don’t try to do it all alone. You need to keep the parents informed because they want to know what’s going on, and most will be super appreciative of your efforts. Don’t live on an island—engage with the other teachers to see how you can find ways to work together to improve the program. Remember to have fun with your class. Years later, they aren’t going to remember your math or writing lessons. But they will remember that you ran around on the playground with them, dressed up in ridiculous costumes with them, and went to their extracurricular activities because you cared about them more than anything else.
If you or someone you know would like a short, sweet book on teaching; pick up a copy today. I’m not a teacher and still benefitted from his recommendations. After all, are we not all teachers in some capacity?
Keep a lookout for Pete in the future as well! He’s working on a fictional story for YA, next!
From Pete’s blog:
My name is Pete Springer. I taught elementary school for thirty-one years (grades 2-6) at Pine Hill School in Eureka, CA. Even though I retired over three years ago, my passion will always lie with supporting education, kids, and teachers.
When I came out of the teaching program many years ago, I realized how unprepared I was for what was in store for me in the classroom. My college education focused mostly on learning theory rather than the practical day-to-day challenges that all teachers face. Thankfully, I had some great mentors to lean on to help support me in the early part of my career.
I have made it my mission to pay it forward to the next generation of teachers. I was a master teacher to four student teachers, and I have several former students who are now teachers, including one who teaches at my former elementary school. That is pretty cool!
While I was teaching, I decided that one day I would write books for children. That ship is now in the harbor. I took some writing workshops, found a critique group, joined SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and I’m nearing the end of writing my first middle-grade novel. I’m writing for middle-school boys, as I don’t feel there are enough good books for that age level.
Dear Smile Fingers,
I sleep in my bed with Blankie and not in the car turned around so I couldn’t see you until Milk Hands took me out and said hi and buh-bye and you leaned in and said I’ve gotten fat and you don’t know where my brother is oh no you don’t and bed is good but the car is gooder.
Dear Mrs. Smith,
Mom made me pull out all my school clothes, she put them in a box. She said [in a Mom voice] “We aren’t going to use these, so we may as well pack them up.” Then she made me put away the stuff from my desk we got from you. You remember when we went to your house and threw candy at you? [laughs] I don’t know where to put my folders so I put them under the bed but don’t tell Mom. I miss when you read to us but not when you made me put my book away.
I only know a little about you; from the e-mails you send, the Zoom meetings I overhear, and the morning videos you share every day. I spoke to you forever ago, at carpool pickup after school, but never appreciated what you did before that time.
Most days, I can’t get my son to get off the floor if he’s determined to melt there. Yet, every day; you taught him, motivated him, got him to work, and loved him. Your stinkeye is legendary.
As I tucked my baby into bed, I remembered how you smiled and talked to him at pickup. As we folded the school clothes and sorted the school folders, I remembered the school conferences and class parties you held. You were surrounded by noise and chaos but thrived and guided so all those children also thrived.
You’re amazing -I thought you should know.
I’m not sure what to tell you, as normal keeps getting put off till later, except for, “Thank you.” Thank you for the magic you performed for every person for every day. I know you’ll get to do it again; will you stick around till the baby’s old enough?
Anyway, thank you. And sorry about the candy-throwing.
Long have the halls been silent,
The chairs empty, the locker doors thrown open.
Long have the weeds grown,
Unchecked, through the days of winter, cold and dull.
Long has the toilets been clean,
The stains and smears of adolescence finally washed away.
Peace has reigned.
As the bell sounds for the first time,
The rodents, the cleaners, the teachers,
Grimace their despair.
Congratulations, Deb! You are the most terrible poet of the week!
Many poets’ works made me grimace today, but Deb’s stood out. She made me believe I was reading a serious poem, then artfully threw the meter off course whilst adding elements like rodents and “smears of adolescence” in there.
But the terrible poetry doesn’t stop there! Read the others, if you are able:
I just dropped my pencil
I made the teacher
Don’t be blue
I know I took advantage
Of the teacher who’s new
He sent my butt home
For my mother to chew
Don’t be mad
Only nine months to summer
Then we’ll be glad
What’s she mean
It won’t be the worst nine months
She ever had….
Hello Everyone! Welcome back to school!
Murray, SIDDOWN N SHUDDUP!
Paula, I hope your summer time was cool!
Wayne, SIDDOWN N SHUDDUP!
Shirley, you’re acting like a fool.
Frank, SIDDOWN N SHUDDUP!
William, you’re full of bull.
Jeanette, SIDDOWN N SHUDDUP!
Winifred, no you can’t; it’s against the rule.
Neil, SIDDOWN N SHUDDUP!
Oh for goodness sake! I can’t wait for the Christmas break when we celebrate Yule.
EVERYONE! SIDDOWN N SHUDDUP!
Let’s see who does the bester
In this first semester.
YOU’RE HERE TO LEARN SO SIDDOWN N SHUDDUP!
Is it really back to school
In that uniform so uncool
Do I have to Combe my hair
I’m not allowed to rock in my chair
Come again, I have to get up at Half past Six
Then get on the school bus with the other lunatics
Have to eat a healthy school lunch
And in the class I’m not allowed to munch
I have to learn my nine times tables
And I need to write my name on all the coat labels
I’m not allowed to pick my nose
While having to write boring prose
Not allowed to play games of my mobile phone
And if the teacher shouts I’m not allowed to moan
Must not run and play along the school corridors
And no pulling funny faces at the other choristers
When I ask a question I must raise my hand
Even when in Latin it’s impossible to understand
I have to fully button up my school shirt
Always keep the blazer on to hide all the dirt
Not supposed to throw objects at the head-boy
Be nice to your classmates and certainly don’t annoy
On no grounds can I fight or swear
Don’t attack the other kids with the set square
Need to pick my feet up so no scrapping only the floorboards
And certainly I’m not supposed to do rude doodles on the blackboards
I HATE SCHOOL……
Welcome to the Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest #41!!
For some guidance, click a basic description here. Entrants assume all risks associated with poeming, reading, and laughing painfully.
Here are the specifics for this week:
Topic, topic; who’s got a topic? Ooh! I do; I do!
It’s Back to School! Thank you, Timmy. Now, next time let’s remember to raise our hands.
No teacher actually reads those 500-word essays, so keep the Length above 4 words and below 200. For those in the advanced math group, that’s 4<p<200, where p is poem and 4 is 4 and 200 is 200.
Teacher, should we Rhyme? If you wish, this occasion.
Just Make it terrible! The superintendent of all the area schools must feel compelled to visit and deliver a lecture on “Why One Never Poems Without Reason,” followed by a light refreshment of watered-down punch.
Naturally, this assignment must be rated appropriate for general audiences.
You have till 8:00 a.m. MST next Friday (September 6) to submit a poem.
Use the form below to remain anonymous for a week.
For a more social experience and immediate fame, include your poem or a link to it in the comments.
Times have changed. Teaching has far more demands than it used to. Required paperwork, overcrowded classes, and lack of support begins to take its toll. At first it all seems manageable. That fire of wanting to teach keeps the motor running. Then bit by bit, as demands and expectations increase, it becomes more difficult to keep the fire burning. The love becomes lost.
Teachers are quitting.
Children have changed, too. Their lives have less (or little) room for play. Most of their waking hours are structured – from school to sports to after school activities. Oh, and then the homework. Frankly, homework in the early grades should be reading. Period.
Children are often coming to school feeling everything from anger to being overwhelmed. They may not know why, they just know they aren’t feeling happy.
Is it any wonder that America’s children are ranked 26th in reading among the world?
“Thank you, Mr. LongDog,” Dr. L. said, shooting nervous glances at the brown-bunned woman peering over her clipboard.
A few members of the class laughed again; Wil barely refraining from snickering, herself. She felt sorry for Dr. L. He was clearly flustered and the laughing didn’t help. That sympathy, however, vanished with what happened next.
“We’ll, erm, need to break into groups,” Dr. L. continued. He looked faint at the idea, then scratched the back of his head and cast his glance around the room for inspiration. Something must have hit, for then he raised his pointer finger in a pose of scientific discovery. “Ah!” he announced, “I’ll sort you like they did at the training.”
Looping his lab coat-shod arms in a wide air gesture, he said, “You six, here, are one group.” He walked to the cluster in which Wil sat. “You -um- seven are a group…”
Wil didn’t hear the rest. She was too mindful of her stomach dropping in dread. Kind, patient Jenny Sanders was fine. Even that quiet kid she barely knew (Bobby? Something?) wasn’t bad. The problem was that Dr. L.’s sweeping loop of her seven desk group included the ever-obnoxious Carl Hurn. She felt sick. “Uuuhhrrg.”
“Did you say something, Wil?” Jenny asked. She seemed concerned, although maybe that came more from a desire to avoid infection. Wil noticed Jenny’s eyes flit the distance between their desks.
“Fine,” Wil answered. “I’m fine.” She tried not to glance in the direction of Carl’s desk. Instead, she focused on reading over the paper of instructions.
Bobby cleared his throat. “Looks like,” he began in an unsteady timbre -Carl snickered and Bobby ignored him- “Looks like we need to circle up first.”
They all acquiesced a grumble and moved the class furniture accordingly.
“Then,” Bobby continued, “we need the things on this list.” He raised his own paper and pointed at the bullet point words.
“I got it,” a girl, whom Wil didn’t know, volunteered. She rose, grabbed her own paper, and headed to the supply cupboard.
“I wonder if it’ll even open,” Wil muttered.
To her surprise, Jenny giggled. She met Wil’s eye. “This is kind of odd for Ol’ Lombard,” Jenny said. “But, it’s also nice to not spend the whole period trying not to sleep.”
Someone snorted. It was Carl. “Says the Teacher’s Pet.”
A boy to Carl’s left punched him lightly in the arm. “Shut the -” he glanced up and paled a bit, causing Wil to whip around and see that their ‘visitor’ was peering in their direction. She whipped back forward. The puncher cleared his throat and leaned closer to Carl. “Shut up, alright?”
Carl’s expression looked sheepish. Wil was amazed, up until she turned back to Jenny and caught the open admiration on the girl’s face.
“Got ’em,” a voice said, interrupting Wil’s observations. The girl who’d volunteered to collect materials had returned. She set two glass phials, a few strips of colored paper, and several opaque bottles on her desk. Plopping into her seat behind the supplies, she asked, “Now what?”
Unfortunately for Wil, Dr. L. had attended a mandatory training over the weekend. This training, he now stopped mid-lecture to lament to the class, involved hands-on activities. He’d had to practice with actual people and be told, no, he couldn’t just talk about science.
The conclusion of his complaints to Wil’s class was that the school wanted him to change the way he taught. Wil groaned in sync with a chorus of fellow sympathizers. She wasn’t the only teenager who used Dr. L.’s lectures to finish activities like text conversations or homework due in the next period.
“They’re even sending someone in to-” their teacher began, then cut off as a knock sounded on the classroom door.
They all turned to look as the knocker pushed into the room and stood expectantly just inside. She was a woman with a messy bun and a somewhat wrinkled pantsuit. Everything about her frowned, Wil thought, from the lines of the woman’s outfit to her down-turned spectacles.
Dr. L. stared in apprehension at her for a full minute; Wil couldn’t remember ever seeing him focus on a living object before. The woman cleared her throat. “Don’t mind me, please.” Her voice was a higher-pitched version of his, a nasal sort that put Wil in mind of a squirrel. A squirrel with a messy bun and frowning face. *Ahem*, she cleared things again. “Just pretend I’m not here.”
The class and, especially, Dr. L. watched her perch atop a lab stool, her clipboard grasped before her and her legs and feet drawn near to her body. When nothing else happened, she returned the bespectacled chemistry teacher’s gaze. “Well?”
“Oh!” He started, and seemed to remember where he was. “Oh! Right; right.” Shuffling back to his lecture table, Dr. L. began shifting through chemical bottles and loose papers. “It’s right here -I know they’re here somewhere…” he muttered.
“Dr. L.?” Jenny, the girl to Wil’s left, raised a hand.
The man she addressed peered near her in some confusion. “Yes, Ms. -?”
“Sanders, sir,” Jenny said politely. She always had to tell him and Wil always marveled at how patiently Jenny did so. “I think you left the experiment notes on your computer.”
The overhead lights glinted off Dr. L.’s lenses as he lifted and turned his face to the location Jenny referenced. “Ah!” he exclaimed, and walked over to pick the pile up. “Thank you, Ms. -?”
“Yes,” he agreed. Turning to Cash Delarge’s desk, he said, “Here, Mr. LeDog. Take a paper and pass them along.”
Wil sighed as a few people tittered. Chemistry was going to be a long class today.