by Michael McGinnis
Most people understand the short-term aspect of teaching. A teacher presents a lesson to students, gives them an assignment so they can learn by doing, and then judges how well they have mastered their lesson. It pleases me to see students learn something new — to see the lights come on, so to speak. But even more satisfying is the long-term part of teaching.
The most memorable students are often the ones that cause teachers the most problems. Generally, this happens because teachers are in the business of encouraging and developing responsibility in students, and a difficult student is reluctant to accept responsibility. Looking in the short term at such students, who may be uncooperative and resentful, can lead to feelings of frustration in a teacher. But a sense of perspective can change that.
I have seen a good many students with problems as teenagers journey through a maturation process. Teachers who insist on responsible behaviour from students — and their parents too, I am sure! — very often force young people to face themselves. This means that as students young people are repeatedly shown that the effects of their actions come back to them.
I love to say that most of the students who had troubles with responsibility in their early years in high school usually improve greatly by the time they leave school. I notice one thing over and over again — a responsible person is a happier person. It is very satisfying to be greeted with a smile from a student who was very difficult a few years earlier! Seeing a student on a daily basis over the years, it is easier to see that true growth in character comes slowly, and that it comes by having students deal with the consequences of what they do.
This process is often painful for students, and can be sometimes for teachers as well. But I compare the maturing student tot he larval stage of a butterfly still in the cocoon. When the new butterfly is ready to leave the cocoon its body is swollen and its wings are tiny. It must struggle very hard to force itself through a small opening in the top of the cocoon to become free. The hole in the top of the cocoon is surrounded with a very tough ring of material like concrete which the new butterfly must squeeze through to become a mature adult. To the butterfly, the process of escaping from the cocoon may seem terribly difficult, demanding and unfair. Yet, when a butterfly's cocoon is cut open by a kind-hearted person to spare it its frantic struggles for freedom, the butterfly emerges misshapen: its journey through the concrete ring is essential to shrink the body and pump fluid into its wings. And so it is with the troubled student — problems must be present if the student is going to make progress, because to make progress life's challenges must be met and worked through.