"I Can't Wait"

"I can't wait to get to school and start learning." That's what Marsha Drury told her best friend recently. Knowing what she did about Marsha, the friend was surprised to hear her talk that way. Her words sounded strange and out of place, considering the circumstances.

What's so unusual about a student saying, "I can't wait to get to school and start learning"? Lots of students are heading off to school about this time of year. Hopefully, many of them carry that attitude with them along with a new backpack, supplies, and a friendly smile. In fact, it would be helpful if more students came to school with a can't wait mindset.

What seemed out of place was the fact that Marsha was not a student. She was a teacher-a teacher with 12 years of experience. At first glance it might seem that "I can't wait to get to school and start teaching" might be a more appropriate comment for her to utter as she anticipated the beginning of the school year. But not for Marsha.

Marsha Drury is a middle school teacher who believes that students are in her life as much so she can learn from them as they are so they can learn from her. She is open to lessons her students offer her and honors them for helping her grow and learn as a professional educator.

We tend to think that students are in our classroom so they can learn from us. And certainly that is true. They enter our classrooms knowing little about our subject areas, and it is our job to help them learn what they don't know. So we teach them how to add, divide fractions, use a computer, and play musical instruments. We help them learn the reasons for the Civil War, the purpose of the three branches of our government, and how to do an effective research paper.

This is one way of perceiving the teacher/student relationship: adult as teacher and child as learner. Another way of seeing this relationship, a way that Marsha Drury sees, is that of child as teacher and adult as learner.

Maybe Marsha Drury is onto something. Could it be that students enter our lives and our classrooms so that we can learn from them as much as they can learn from us? Perhaps they are present in our classrooms so that we can learn how to be patient, how to be respectful in the face of disrespect, or how to hold students accountable without wounding their spirit. Maybe they are here so we can develop skill in offering controlled choice, descriptive praise, or a positive student confrontation model.

Where do you stand in relation to this teacher/learner issue as the school year begins? Do you see your students helping you learn valuable lessons? Do you have a special needs child this year? Perhaps he or she is in your life to help you learn about dyslexia, hyperactivity, or autism. Maybe the lesson you are being called to learn involves understanding, unconditional love, or commitment.

To open yourself to the lessons that your students are offering you, observe their behavior. When you notice a particular behavior that calls for an adult intervention, ask yourself, What is my lesson here? Before applying a discipline strategy to correct your student's behavior, look at your own behavior. Consider learning your lesson first. Once you have learned your lesson you may be surprised to find that the student no longer needs to manifest the "problem" behavior as a learning device for you .

Ask yourself the same questions Marsha Drury uses to lead her to a learning opportunity:

What can I learn from this?

Am I in some unconscious way modeling the inappropriate behavior that I'm observing in this student?

What could I change that would help him modify this behavior?

What is she trying to tell me by behaving this way?

What is it that I need to know that I don't currently know?

What is my lesson here?

Your students may be calling on you to learn about anger management, that being right doesn't work, or that they need extra help. They may be encouraging you to refine your teaching style by lecturing less often, taking a cooperative learning course, or becoming knowledgable about brain development in boys.

Your students are offering you a gift: the gift of learning. Will you be open to it? You will if you assume the stance taken by Marsha Drury: "I can't wait to get to school and start learning."