Teacher Magic Rarely Planned


The best teacher I’ve ever worked with started one of her best lessons with the N-word on the board.

By the time the lesson was done, several other vile words were on the board. Words of hate and intolerance. Words that destroyed.

A master teacher, she engaged her students in discussion about the words they used daily with little thought. She taught about the power of hate speech, about how different cultures had embraced hate words and claimed them as their own under the belief that by doing so the speech would lose its power.

By the time she was done, every kid in the room took part in a lesson that would last a lifetime.

As the students made their way through my class that day they shared their shock at the honesty of the lesson, their excitement at its reality. They couldn’t believe how much they’d learned, and quite honestly, most felt guilty about the way they’d so easily thrown around the words she’d written on the board.

She was a master teacher who didn’t shy away from tough topics.

That was 1997.

I’ve talked to some of those students and they STILL remember that day, they still think before they speak.

I wonder if the same lesson could be taught today.

I hadn’t thought about that lesson until last week when I read a story on HuffPo about a teacher under fire for writing “You can’t be a democrat and go to heaven” on the board.

Her superintendent said the statement wasn’t part of the curriculum.

I don’t have a clue what the teacher was doing when she wrote those words on the board, but I know I certainly heard those words during this election cycle. I know those words could be a great starting point for a lesson on politics and the angry rhetoric that is so much a part of our political world today.

I don’t think the words would find their way onto one of the tests that run our curriculum these days, but I know real learning can take place in classrooms led by a fearless teachers who dare to engage in discussion about real world issues instead of how to choose the best answer: A, B, C or D. I know because I see those real life lessons every day conducted by fearless teachers across my campus.

The master teacher I worked with in 1997 didn’t PLAN her lesson. She heard the students dropping the words in the hall as if they were no big deal, and she decided in a moment to change what they were doing in her classroom that day.

Great teachers can do that.

It’s scary to think our current education culture could ruin those moments of spontaneity, those moments of teacher magic that can’t be measured and don’t have anything to do with objectives or TEKS or common core standards.

I don’t know what took place in the classroom in the linked story. I do know I want my students to think critically, problem solve and question the answers. Maybe I’ll start my day Monday with the words “You can’t be a democrat and go to heaven” on the board.

***Photo Link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/7777942490/lightbox/ used under creative commons license.


Books out now: Letting Go and Grace is Enough by Mary Beth Lee; Honor and Lies and Dead Girl Walking by Elizabeth Lee. Available in kindle format or from book stores everywhere.

2 responses to “Teacher Magic Rarely Planned

  1. Enjoyed your post. My wife teaches elementary in the public school system. Not sure how she (or you) do it. I serve as her “Recycle Bin” so she can come home, download and delete 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s