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March 29, 2011

The Best Education Tool

Nick Diaz

If you’ve ever taken your car to a garage to be serviced, you know there are good mechanics and there are…well, bad ones. The good ones demonstrate great knowledge and skill along with great concern for the job at hand.


Having great resources and all the appropriate tools makes his job easier, but tools don’t fix cars; mechanics do! When we need our car serviced, we want to know who has the best mechanics, not who has the best tools.


Almost daily, we deal with a similar scenario in education. We know that in schools there are good teachers and there are, to be charitable, those who are not so good. Like the mechanic, the good teacher demonstrates remarkable knowledge and skill, along with great concern for the task at hand.


Over the years, I’ve grown tired of reading articles and letters by well-meaning individuals who believe that, by placing all the latest equipment in the classroom, students will learn. This implies that as long as each teacher and student has a laptop, and the classroom has a Smart Board and a document lamp, students will achieve more.


We must not confuse resources with the art of teaching. Certainly, having great resources supplements the learning process; however, students are not taught by resources. They are taught by teachers who engage them in a purposeful, focused manner.


I have been in the business of education for a very long time and have attended numerous workshops, some of which has offered different insights into the art of teaching. Yet the bottom line remains the same – students are taught by engaging teachers – period! The length of the school day, the number of students in the class, and the money spent per individual student, all pale in comparison to the knowledgeable and artful teacher.


All of us should discipline ourselves to consider the real value in today’s educational process. As in any field, the process needs to continue to change and improve, supplying the appropriate support and resources to optimize the learning environment.


Yet these are just resources. Let us remember that the successful school requires more than good resources. It requires great teachers, and a great teacher of teachers, also known as the principal.


* * * * * * * * *


There is a huge difference between growing older and growing up. If a young person is 16 years old and lies in bed for a full year, smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo, doing nothing productive, he or she will still turn 17 on their next birthday.


If one is now 40 years old and stays in bed for a year, never doing anything productive, one will still be 41 on their next birthday. Anyone can grow older. That doesn’t take any talent, ability or effort. The idea, however, is to grow up by always finding the opportunity in change.


Each year in school I witness the progression – sixth graders become seventh graders, seventh graders become eighth graders, eighth graders enter high school, and on and on. High school seniors…well, I am not really sure what they all become…


For many, this progression is about growing older. They might be involved in many things, yet are doing little that one might consider productive. They are in Student Government, yet the only thing they really do is show up at the meetings. Perhaps they are on the basketball team or in the band, yet their contributions are minimal because they do nothing productive to improve their skills.


How do I convince them that life is truly about growing up? How do I get them to understand every experience brings opportunity for growth? How do I get them to understand that moving from eighth grade to freshman year isn’t about age, but maturity?


I encourage my eighth graders to consider whether they are growing up, or merely getting older. In a few months I’ll be turning 64; the only effort that will take is waking up on the morning of my birthday. More importantly for me, is whether I will continue to see each experience as an opportunity to grow. I would like to grow old with dignity, but I would like to grow up…passionately!


On the other hand, some people may doubt whether growing up is at all likely, or even possible, for a dyed-in-the-wool motorcycle rider…


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