Philosophy and Nonsense
(Thoughts about writing, education, and experience.) Presented by Forrest D. Poston
The first goal of teaching is to strengthen, deepen and refine our intrinsic love of learning. All other goals and all methods must stem from that idea. Any that do not support that goal must at least be questioned and adjusted, if not eliminated. Otherwise, we are not teaching but training.
Think, I dare you.
|Getting a Clue
(very rough version needing revision) by
Forrest D. Poston
I left high school with a high GPA, higher test scores, and a nice selection fo scholarships. What I didn't have was a clue. Actually, in that respect I wasn't much different from most. Heading to college, most people haven't a clue but try to hide it because they think they're the only one. Others think they have a clue but are quite mistaken (whether or not they ever realize it and how they respond varies). I'd say far less than one percent really have a clue, know it, and are right about it.Look at it this way, I picked my original major (math) based on a science fiction short story I read while goofing off in journalism class, lost what interest I had in college once I found out that it was not significantly different from high school (not at all like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes...original version), and eventually dropped out with the intention of becoming a stand up comedian.
No, I didn't have a clue when I graduated from high school. Actually, didn't have much of a clue when I got around from graduating from college, and that's all quite odd because I had not merely a clue but a revelation in 6th grade.
It was somewhere during the summer before 6th grade that something in my mind reached critical mass and patterns fell into place. Things the teacher said just made sense. Up until then, I'd gotten A's in reading and "works and plays well with others" with everything else running down from there. And I really didn't much care.
And part way through 6th grade, 10 minutes changed my world. Mrs. Stevens let 3 of us tutor those having trouble with math. I never thought about it, but the base of my teaching philosophy was already in place. Don't tell them what to do. Suggest, point, nudge, encourage, but make sure that they each walk the path their way and reach the conclusion under their own power.
Something fell into place for one of the students, and he was delighted. I realized absolutely that I wanted to be a teacher. I would say perhaps realized that I was a teacher. For the next few years, I wanted to teach whatever grade I was in at the time, but things started going wrong.
I wanted to teach, but I didn't want to do what I saw teachers doing. Even my favorite teachers weren't what I wanted to be or do. It was all memorization and no meaning, though I couldn't put it so directly at the time. All I knew was that I didn't want to be like them but had no other vision of what a teacher could be.
If I'd seen "To Sir, With Love" or if "Dead Poet's Society" had been out, flawed as John Keating was, things may have been different, but I was lost between a dream and mismatched reality. Somewhere along the way, I completely forgot that I'd ever wanted to teach.
For some people, it was enough to go to college because that's what others expected. Most of them studied at least enough to get by and graduated because that was expected, and they got jobs, got married, or both....because that's what was expected. That wasn't (and isn't) enough for me. It was a fun game in 6th grade and a few years after getting good grades and being told I was smart, but meaning never grew from any of that.
There was neither wonder nor wondering, no ideas exchanged. Conversation was discouraged, and nothing ever became more than the sum of the parts. There was no meaning, and the only purpose of each test was to get to the next one, each class to get to the next one, completely superficial, completely counter to the nature of the human mind.
So I started college without a clue. Went off to see how things looked away from home, away from everyone I knew. I saw a different culture, learned more about class than I ever knew, but not in class. I dropped out, worked a wide variety of jobs, got up the nerve to go on a date, worked more jobs.
Then one day I admitted to myself that I was never going back to college, which came as a surprise. I'd given up the comedian idea since I lacked the self-discipline, and opportunities for such were also lacking in WV in the late 70's. That realization came early on a Wednesday evening and began an odd sequence, with the result that I was applying for college two days later and started a few weeks after that.
I still didn't have a clue, but it seemed like the thing to do. I'm not quite sure how I made it through that time, but I did. Still not having a clue made a number of things problematic and sometimes made being around me problematic, causing one of the less pleasant times in my life, but I could BS my way through classes and could write well enough to entertain most of my teachers. I might not know the names and dates, but I could think.
The time came when I had a BA in English but still not a clue. So I began another variety of jobs. Some were a bit higher class since I had a degree, others were back to roofing work, like I'd done before. I took a chance on a relationship, got married, and was looking into grad school, and I still didn't have a clue.
One of the jobs finally helped. It was a delivery job covering territory south and southwest of Columbus, OH, with some 20-30 minute drives between stops, time for thinking, time that needed to be filled. And then I realized that I was giving lectures to imaginary classes, not lectures that told them things, lectures that asked things such as what blue sounded like or tasted like.
I wanted to be Sidney Poitier in To Sir, With Love, Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society, and Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips all rolled into one. I wanted to awaken minds. This time, I was old enough, strong enough to hold onto the idea, not merely of teaching but teaching in a meaningful way, teacher not teller.
And I eventually understood why I could never have gone into teaching on my original schedule, as some 22 year old nitwit with a BA, or a 24 year old nitwit with an MA. The pressures to conform, to teach just one way, are stronger than most realize. I would probably have been swayed, indoctrinated. Instead, I was able to search out other ways, to keep changing as the students taught me, not as the professors taught me.
I learned how to trick students into thinking and how to keep them from realizing it before they grew to like it. I learned to put students ahead of procedure. I didn't learn to keep my head down, keep my mouth shut and just do what I was told. Yeah, that has something to do with why I haven't had a paid teaching position for 10 years and may never have again.
But there's this thing called the internet, and every now and then someone asks me a question or ask for some help. Every now and then, one of those asks again, and sometimes things happen.
And there's the student that I bumped into in Wal-Mart three years after he'd been in my class. He had a rather strong, ongoing relationship with drugs back then. Admittedly selling, probably using. He didn't listen to me much in class because he figured he knew more than I did because he made more money than I did, a lot more.
No, I didn't turn him in even though he actually wrote about selling drugs. I broke the rules, but I figured odds were better with him in class than out of it. Turned out that he'd gotten kicked out anyway not too long after that term. Three years later, he was engaged, working for his fiance's father and out of the drug world. And he said something that makes me hope that what time I had wasn't lost, maybe I'd found a clue. "You know, I've been thinking that maybe you were right."
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Writing and Education
Four Meanings of Life
Godot and the Great Pumpkin
A Major is More Minor Than
The Poetry Process (A look at 4 versions of a poem.)
Thoughts About Picking a Major
Quick Points About Education
Quick Points About Writing
Reading Poetry and Cloud Watching
Using an Audience
What Makes a Story True?
What's the Subject of This Class? (Being revised.)
Writing and Einstein (The Difference Between Information and Meaning)
Writing and the Goldilocks Dilemma
Links to Other Sites
Other Essays and Poetry
Something Somewhat Vaguely Like a Resume
Alec Kirby, Memories of an Earnest Imp
Being Like Children
Beyond the Genes (Dad)
The Blessing and the Blues
Bookin' Down Brown Street
The Cat With a Bucket List
David and the Revelation
The Dawn, the Dark, and the Horse I Didn't Ride In On (an odd, meandering, semi-romantic story)
Getting a Clue
Ghost Dancer in the Twilight Zone
The Hair Connection and the Nature of Choices
I Believe in Capra
The Mug, the Magic, and the Mistake
Roto, Rooter and the Drainy Day
Sadie on the Bridge
Trumpet Player, USDA Approved
The Poetry Process
Links to Other Sites