My Beliefs

"Emphasizing effort gives a child a rare variable they can control...emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of a child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure."

- Carol Dweck

Photo by Marc Howard, Santa Catalina.

Photo by Marc Howard, Santa Catalina.

I believe that the role of a teacher can be defined as one who maximizes the social, emotional, and academic potential of every student they teach.  This definition, of course, sets all teachers up for failure.  Still, I’m at my most inspired when working towards this lofty ideal with colleagues who know the impossibility of the task, but strive to accomplish it anyway.

Growing up, I often heard people in my hometown use variations of the saying It’s not the size of the bucket a person carries, but how well they fill the bucket they have.

When I was a kid, my favorite athletes tended to not be those who possessed the greatest talent, but instead the ones who did the most with the talent they were given.  As a teacher, the students who have made the most lasting impact on me are those who – regardless of aptitude – exceeded what I thought they were capable of accomplishing.

Students like Thinh, Nasir, Jermaine, Michelle, Jane, and En-hui are not the same age, came from very different homes, went to different schools, and scored drastically different results on standardized tests.  However, bound by a relentless determination, they all belong to the same phylum of student – Potential Realized.

I believe that very few students realize more than ten percent of their academic potential.  I state this with humility, knowing that I graduated from high school functioning on a middle school reading level, but five years later graduated from college with a language arts degree.

I also feel that most teachers only realize a fraction of their professional potential.  I state this admitting that I spent my first five years of teaching categorizing students into those who could and could not, and believing that the bell curve was inevitable.

My philosophy changed during the 2005-06 school year when Dr. Yoram Sagher trained me in elementary mathematics teaching methods. Through his guidance, I learned that it was realistic (not to mention a lot of fun) for every child to feel successful in Math and in turn make drastic improvements during the course of a school year.  I realized that the reality of the bell curve had previously been magnified by me, not my students’ aptitude.

Dr. Sagher helped me understand that if I was able to master the content I was teaching, and willing to focus on clearly sequencing its delivery, then it was within me to arouse the latent mathematician laying dormant in many of my struggling students.

My experiences of working as an elementary Math teacher and consultant have forced me to change not only my definition of good teaching, but also my notion of what children are capable of achieving.

The Myth of Ability by John Mighton is a book that Dr. Sagher encouraged me to read.  It has helped shape many of my beliefs.  For a list of other books that have positively influenced my education career see Further Reading.