What makes an educator an educator? Or, more importantly, where does “effective teaching” begin? Is it with standards, content, and resources? Or with relationships, connections, and shared experiences? Or perhaps some combination thereof?
The New York times recently featured a short award winning documentary about Jeffery Wright, a physics teacher in Louisville, KY. The video is moving, not just because he is clearly an inspired and passionate educator, but also because his “antics” stem from someplace deeper than scope and sequence charts, pacing guides, and textbook-based objectives.
While his experiments are entertaining and engage the attention of his students, it is the story behind the man — as a father — that sheds light on what lies beneath simply “teaching” students. Wright says,
“When you look at physics, it’s all about laws and how the world works . . . But if you don’t tie those laws into a much bigger purpose, the purpose in your heart, then (the students) are going to sit there and ask the question ‘Who cares?’”
It is this framing that speaks to the larger challenges of standardized reform — how can we ensure each and every student has access to educational experiences that speak to them individually within the context of a community who cares for them personally? Attentiveness to the people in education systems — and equity for each and every one — is the frontier for achieving the greatest short and long term gains.
At the heart of learning is relationships. To the material, peers, oneself and the lesson provider — whoever that may be: a 4-year old girl, a son with severe special needs, or a teacher. We must cultivate and tend to these relationships lest we forget what is most important — each other.
Side note: The documentary was filmed by 22 year-old photojournalist and filmmaker, Zack Conkle, one of Mr. Wright’s former students.