Lori Falce: Favorite teachers show more than curriculum
My favorite teacher in elementary school was Mrs. Jones.
She was my homeroom teacher, and in a small Catholic school, that meant she was the default for a lot of other classes. In addition to social studies, she handled religion, health and art. But her passion was geography.
There was no situation where Mrs. Jones would not cheerfully bust out a map.
In social studies, this was easily integrated. In religion, we were likely to take a look at how far it would be to walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem and then on to Egypt. In health, it might be to find where Louis Pasteur developed cholera and anthrax vaccines. When we read “Where the Red Fern Grows,” we traced a path from Kentucky to the Ozarks.
She didn’t incorporate the map lessons because they were part of the curriculum. They weren’t on a test. They didn’t show up on a quiz. But what they taught me was that I didn’t have to sacrifice what interested me for what was being graded. The two didn’t have to be separate animals.
I worry that Mrs. Jones could never work in a public school today. There was nothing about what she did that spoke of standardized tests or rubrics or metrics. In the world of a billion educational buzzwords, what my favorite teacher brought to the table was a joy that showed me — as a child — that she — as an adult — was still learning every day and loved every minute of it.
I want that for my son, but sometimes it seems like we try very hard to beat the good teaching out of education.
I understand why we want all kids to be getting to the same basics, but in standardizing minimums, are we leaving out maximums? Is a curriculum that was voted on by elected officials for a whole school district, something that is aimed at proficiency on a multiple-choice test, tying kids to the lowest common denominator when they should be exploring infinity and beyond?
I want my kid — and all kids — to have a teacher whose passion for education leads them into off-ramps and pathways that might have nothing to do with the subject in question and everything to do with teaching students that learning doesn’t start and stop with an answer bubble filled in with a No. 2 pencil.
Do I want him to read and write? To add and subtract? To answer questions about social studies and science? Or do I want him to ask things that aren’t on the test and explore subjects that have no text book? D. All of the above.
Because the best thing I learned from Mrs. Jones is that a map can always teach you more than just where you are in the world.
It can help you find where you want to go.
Lori Falce is a Tribune-Review community engagement editor. You can contact Lori at firstname.lastname@example.org.