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I used to know everything!

At one time in my career, I knew everything there was to know about almost everything, especially teaching. Three wonderful weeks of practice teaching further reinforced my sense of omniscience. After all, I was placed with one of the finest 1st-grade teachers in the district who had told me personally how well I was doing. That did it! There could be no living without me. In reality, there was no living with me. I was incorrigible. Fortunately for me and the children I encountered after that practicum, I met Walter.

After four weeks of practice teaching, my college supervisor was to make his first observation of my class. I was ready! I mean, I was really PREPARED! The students had been studying "shelters"; specifically, how frontier farmers lived. The classroom lessons were over and we were planning a museum trip to see an actual frontier cabin. Upon returning, my supervisor would join us in the classroom to observe the follow-up lesson. The students and I would brainstorm, recalling all the things we had seen. I would record the items on the chalkboard and sketch a small illustration next to each. Later, the children would create detailed drawings of the items of their choice.

To say the children were excited does not capture their full effervescence. They could barely wait for me to finish writing down an item. They were out of their seats waving their arms frantically, eager to contribute. My "superior" teaching was reaching new heights. They remembered everything--almost. "You've mentioned almost everything," I said. The room was silent. "I'll give you a clue. It was long, with a silver barrel, and it was hanging over the fireplace." A hurricane unleashed. Hands and bodies were begging to be recognized. When the rifle had been identified, the frenzy subsided. This was success at its best. How could I top this? I was wonderful! I was so smug and enthralled with myself, I almost missed the lone hand being raised. It was Walter. Small, bright, warm, inquisitive Walter. I knew he would make me look even better--if that were possible.

"I have a question."

"Yes?" I asked, leaning forward expectantly.

He adjusted his glasses. "Was that rifle flintlock or percussion?"

The class stopped. Every eye was upon me. I, of course, intelligently replied, "Uh ... Um ... Er ... Ah ...." and finally, in a hoarse whisper, resorted to the eyerpopular, "I'll have to look that up." My supervisor probably noticed only a fraction of my horror. He was too hysterical. His writing pad did not shield the shaking of his body or the sound of his laughter. I wanted to head for the exit. I actually looked at the door. It was then that I realized how I had inflated myself, my "grievous error." Fortunately, since the table captains had distributed the art paper, the children soon became happily engaged in drawing.

There are lessons to be learned in the classroom, and the great majority of them have nothing to do with academics. The lesson I learned that day has helped to guide my career. Every classroom practice should begin with one question: Is this good for students? Students are the heart of every classroom. If we as teachers concentrate on student needs first, we can then weave many and all academics. If, on the other hand, we are concerned with our own importance or success, we will miss the main objective of our profession--enhancing children's learning. In a wonderful irony, when children are first in our plans, we don't ever have to worry about whether we are doing a good job.

I am no longer a know-it-all teacher. Instead, I am a try-to-learn-it-all teacher and some of the best teachers I've found are students like Walter.

Paula Treiber is a 7th-grade English Teacher at Sidney Lanier Intermediate School, Fairfax, Virginia.
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Title Annotation:personal narrative
Author:Treiber, Paula
Publication:Childhood Education
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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