The Unity & Diversity project was originally conceived as a venue for teachers to talk about teaching in personal, meaningful ways. For all the questions we’re asked as science teachers - ranging from the anatomical to the philosophical - we are seldom asked about ourselves and our own thinking about teaching. The first set of essays, addressing ‘What is the value of letting students struggle in class?’ can be found here.
This year, we took on a perhaps more audacious topic: What is the most important thing we can teach our students?
Teaching occupies a strange space, professionally; it’s not quite a white collar profession, and not-not one either, combining the highs of intellectual pursuits with the more mundane realities of day-to-day life as a classroom teacher. We spend our time on details: Who’s doing well and who needs help; who’s smiling and who looks like they had a rough day; when to germinate beans; what happens if we run out of glue; what happens if the copy machine breaks; if anyone will notice if we grade during this meeting.
I’ve also had the experience of being a robotics coach, and have had the ‘for want of a nail’ problem - some seemingly insignificant part becoming the ‘most important thing;’ a 120-pound robot stymied for want of a hex-head cap screw. We accustom ourselves to thinking small, to worrying about hows and whens and whats, hoping the ‘why’ will shake itself out eventually. In being the ‘on the ground’ force in education, sometimes all we see is what’s immediate. This project hopes to change that.
I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege of serving as a first reader and editor on this collection of essays. These 22 essays cover a range of ‘most important’ things: from wonder to skepticism to compassion. Each of them serves as an example of teachers teaching with passion and with purpose, both the subject matter they are tasked with teaching and the things beyond it - those lessons that language sometimes fails to express properly, the kind that we carry with us as parts of ourselves.
In reading through each essay, I am struck by their similarity - no teacher said that the most important thing they could teach their students was purely content. Some said process; some said mindset; but none said that the most important part of teaching could be found on page 126 in a textbook, or in a subsection of Wikipedia or, indeed, on any factual material we give our students.
And although every teacher who participated is or has recently been a science teacher, these thoughts and feelings are not exclusive to science teachers or, indeed, teachers of any particular subject matter. These are the real, important lessons we hope to impart to the young people in our care, and to you, as our readers.
May 9, 2016