Sunday, September 20, 2015

"To Teach" Part II


WOW! [Spoiler alert if you haven’t read] The end made me smile.  “We learned that out actions as teachers and students, as citizens and community members, echo down the generations and that a useful guide for all of us is to try to respond to the dreams of youth” (p. 122).  An overpowering emotional feeling came over me.  To put it into perspective, it sent chills down my spine.  I never read or experienced anything like this.  I never EVER read a book (in a long time) that made me feel as empowered as I do today.  Sure, I know that I am making a difference in a student’s like.  Sure, I see students from previous years and have small talk.  But to think about a student becoming a teacher (who may have been labeled with some deficit) just made me open my eyes much more.  I thought about some of those students who had deficits in learning and wondered, how those students are contributing to society. 

I thought of one student in particular and thought about how this student struggled in class.  This student needed all kinds of supports and interventions, like Quinn.  Quinn was labeled by outsiders simply because he was not acting "of the norm." Ayers depicted Quinn as a disruptive individual.   Even though he learned differently and acted differently from others, he was still an individual who contributed to the class as a functioning student (I use the word functioning, instead of typical).  I think about how Ayers supported Quinn as a student “…if I wrote you a note it would say that you’re a brilliant artist, and that you’re hardworking…” (p. 30).  Ayers talks about the positive attributes and changed his mentality by not thinking he was a child with disabilities. 

Quinn says towards the end “As long as I live I am under construction” (p. 121).  He completely understands the struggle and continues to keep “a growth mindset.”  Quinn will be an excellent teacher.  He will continue to “echo down to the generations.” I think in the end the story comes in full circle.  The cycle continues to grow as one child explores and looks up to Quinn for guidance.  He understands the importance of self-exploration and maintains "a learning with the students" approach.  


  1. Ken, I look forward to reading your blog every week. Although I didn't know you before this program, I can imagine that you have always been a mindful, considerate teacher...and it is amazing how much growth you share with us every week, truly a lifelong learner. Thinking about the Maya Angelou quote you have here, I think about the students in our graphic novel, and also about the students that we encounter every single day. Do we make them feel welcomed? Safe? Valued and valuable? I'd like to think we do, but I know that there are students who learn and process things very differently from others - how do I make them feel? Does my loud and crazy and random thought process confuse them? How can I be sure that I am reaching all learners, making them feel important in my classroom...because they are. I can only imagine how valued and valuable your students felt last year, even while you were out - messaging and talking with them every day to ensure that they were learning. They knew that even though you were home on your couch, you were still thinking of them and their needs, and making their learning process a priority, even if it had to be a different process than when you were in the classroom.

  2. Ken, I love the Maya Angelou quote as of my all time favorites! I think sometimes it takes just one teacher (like us hopefully) to look at a student like Quinn and see him/her as something other than a "behavior problem" or "intellectually challenged." It is so hard to see beyond the negative qualities in some of our most challenging students, but, at the same time I think it is imperative that we do so. Because if we don't, maybe no one ever will...and it might be that one person who really made a difference or who was the turning point in that young person's life. I think we have a big responsibility as teachers, but it's a responsibility with possible life-altering consequences.

  3. Great quote Ken! It reminds me of "actions speak louder than words." When I think back to some of my favorite teachers and I think about what makes them my favorite it is not the subject or what I learned (academically speaking) that year but how they made me feel about learning and about myself. Tina, I also worry how my student perceive some of my tendencies, my super organization (maybe to a crazy point)? Am I too in their face? Does my loud, often monotonous voice drive them crazy, or make them feel like I'm angry or don't care? I am glad that we all get to share this information, again I am learning so much about myself as a teacher while I complete the reading and blog posts!

  4. Ken, Noticing that Quinn has come full circle is also really interesting considering what we know about classic and official learning. Quinn could easily have fallen victim to the administrative and limited "official" view of himself as a student (and person), but his career as a teacher shows the power of classic learning. Something stuck with him from his youth and the identity he co-constructed with mentors along the way. Luckily he was able to stack some chips rather than have them all taken away.

  5. Isn't it exciting to feel so powerful! I have been at this long enough to have started seeing my students come back after graduating and experiencing some of the real world, and to hear them recount tiny moments from classes long since past, is truly the reward we teach for. Nakkula speaks of this in his first chapter on page 13 when he reminds us that teaching does not really supply the extrinsic rewards (salary), our success is based on the results of those we teach. It often takes years to see those results, and while scary, it is so rewarding when we do get that student we connected with coming back to let us know just how deeply we affected them. It really makes it all worth it.