Author: Alvira, Marco


I’ll just say it up front: I’m some kind of idiot. One of he reasons I didn’t run for the Board of Directors this year was that I was trying to clear some calendar space to play more music (this reason I became involved with the CBA in the first place). Most absurdly, I’ve filled that space by working more hours in my eighth grade classroom. Admittedly, after 28 years experience, I’m still a teaching junkie. Long gone are the days of the youthful idealism that led me to believe that I could save every child from every ill that might cause him harm. These days I’m satisfied to provide fulfilling curriculum and create a classroom experience that might resonate with the kids one way or another.

Resonance. It’s a good word. Guitars, mandolins, fiddles and basses that resonate are the sonic gold standard. Instruments that resonate add warmth and depth to music. It’s that depth that makes an audience connect to the music. While the school district pays me a fine dollar to deliver a quality curriculum, experience has taught that what really motivates kids, what really sticks with them long after they’re gone from my class, is how well I resonated with them. There is no better way to resonate with a child than to make them feel valued.

Deep within each of us a teacher’s voice and image resonates. For me, that is Mrs. Bonneson, my fifth grade teacher. She was old back in 1968—and not just through a 10 year old’s perspective. She wore dark monochrome dresses and stuffed her plump legs into the thick hosiery elderly women of that time were wont to wear. She was an academic anachronism. Very old school. To me, she was a life preserver. I went to a school that experimented in the “new math” and self-paced learning, yet she patrolled the rows of desks with a sharp eye for discipline and swang a mean yardstick.

I appreciated her structure in a time where I felt tossed about by social experimentation in the classroom. More importantly, she discovered and flaunted my secret life. While I played baseball and built forts in the orchard during the day with al the guys, at night I practiced art, wrote poetry and listened to classical music. I had no practical talent for math or science—serious disadvantages to a kid growing up in the midst of a cold war and a race to the moon. She had a place reserved in the front of the room for my work. After school, she would let us kids hang out and play records on the record player. Between the Jackson Five and Paul Revere and the Raiders, she would spin Tchaikovsky. If she only knew how far the ripples spread when she stirs the waters of a child’s life.

Kids from twelve to fifteen are self-centered, selfish little buggers. They think the universe revolves around adolescent sensibilities. Kids at that age are simply not in their right mind. Through all their bravado and imperious eye rolling, however, they are a bunch of insecure little critters craving validation. What matters most to them in their educational experience is a sense of how they were valued in a particular class by a teacher. This gives teachers great power; it can make a seemingly innocuous word or comment as lethal and toxic as a bipartisan compromise Congress.

It’s a funny thing about resonance--a teacher can never really predict exactly how his lessons and interactions are going to stick to a student’s emotional ribs. In years past, I’ve had many siblings in my classes. To one, I am the second coming of Socrates. To the other, I resonate as much as the legal disclaimer at the end of a pharmaceutical commercial. I remember how I once gave a kid a nervous twitch. A psychologist even diagnosed the kid as having Turrets Syndrome. Evidently, I leaned on the kid so hard that he was cracking under the pressure. It was very early in my career and I still cringe and rue over that. From that same year, however, there was another kid that felt so encouraged by the same instruction that he became a academic dynamo and eventually went to medical school. She went out of her way a few years back to thank me.

The last 10 years, politicians, higher academia, and John Q. Public have been trying to pull the sound post out of the educational fiddle so to speak in pursuit of higher test scores. Teachers have been effectively told to quit resonating. We’ve been given scripted lessons void of critical thinking. We’ve had to go “data mining” and create “focus lessons” around high frequency test items. To some degree, education needed some correction as it had drifted to far into touchy-feely waters in the 90’s. The effect of this new droll pedagogical methodology has been devastating. While good teachers still resonate on a personal level with kids, I don’t know if today’s instruction inspires young souls to be poets, historians, artists, musicians…conveyors of culture and life.

But like I said: I’m an idiot. Year after year, I keep going back for more. I’m a junkie. I can’t watch T.V. without thinking about teaching. The truth is, I’m not alone—most teachers are like that. No one loves talking shop more than teachers—we can’t help it. Why? Because the goofy thing about those kids is that they resonate with us.

Posted:  3/3/2013

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