Found a gem, a model for teaching, and something else to research

Saturday, Nov. 10th my wife and I, along with the kids, went walking downtown. Downtown Dickson still has its small town charm and vintage look. And for those who have never walked through an old downtown square or in Dickson’s case a main street, I suggest you do so. It’s very inviting. Now that I’ve set the scene, let me continue.

We entered a store that has not been there long, and one that we’ve never gone into. It has very old and vintage merchandise, second and even third hand products. All of which are very affordable. It took me about ten or so minutes to get to the back of the store because of the VHS and DVD collection in the front. The store also had a huge selection of old hand-dial TV sets. That’s right, no remote available. My eleven year old son was amazed that TV’s were made without remotes. I also spent five or so minutes explaining to him how awesome the original Nintendo game system was. He couldn’t imagine it.

Well, finally at the back wall of the store was an extensive stock of books. All paperbacks were just 50 cents or you could buy three for $1. The books ranged from all kinds of fiction across many decades to academic anthologies and writing manuals. Being a current student and future teacher (not to mention nerd and a weird obsession over books on writing), I scanned through the anthologies and manuals. I found three books, which I bought for a dollar that I couldn’t walk away from without taking. And as soon as I got a chance I started reading.

I found one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays in A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. The essay: “On Education.” I have hardly read any Emerson in my life, but after reading this essay and some research of other scholarly writings on it, I will definitely be reading more. The essay was originally a speech which Emerson delivered to graduating classes primarily in the 1860’s. It was eventually published after his death. I am not going to write about the entire speech, but rather only one paragraph. Emerson gives an incredible example for teachers to think about when teaching. He says “to import into Education the wisdom of life” and to “adopt the pace of Nature,” which is “patience” (256). I know that time is always a factor in schools now-a-days and that teachers have so many kids to instruct and patience is one of the last things on their minds, but thinking about it over a longer period may be beneficial.

Emerson, in this one paragraph, talks about a “naturalist” and how he goes into the forest knowing he will scare away those animals he wants to see, yet sits quietly and with “patience” allows the wildlife to become comfortable with his presence. “They lose their fear” and are even curious as to what he is, or why he’s there (257). As teachers give their lessons sometimes knowing that not all students will catch on to what’s being taught, with patience and repetition the student will eventually come around and “volunteer some degree of advances towards fellowship and good understanding” (257). I really like this metaphor. Emerson asks “can we not wait for him as Nature [does]?” (257). He explains that if we were to instill patience in our teachings than we could see the potential within the student gradually appear. The best part of the paragraph, which I have to quote in full, is: “He has a secret; wonderful methods in him; he is—every child—a new style of man; give him time and opportunity” (257). Each of us was once in the shoes of those we teach. Maybe we were farther along than our students or, in my case, not nearly as advanced. We must slow down the process sometimes and let sink in what is imperative to understand. Plus, let them teach us. As we teach we are also learning how our students learn. We can take this learning and apply it to future lessons and future learning.

Needless to say, I loved the essay and look forward to doing further research on Emerson (as time permits) and the value of patience in teaching.

As always, any comments or suggestions are welcomed!


Emerson, Ralph W. “On Education.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College

Writers. 7th Edition. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins. 2006. 251-

258. Print.


One thought on “Found a gem, a model for teaching, and something else to research

  1. An interesting blog, thank you.

    I can see this idea of letting the learner become accustomed to, and comfortable with, the classroom and the learning taking place. This has particular resonance with me because I spend a lot of time with reluctant learners who have only made limited achievement at school. For them, the classroom is a realm of failure and frustration. This means that not only are my students uncomfortable in the classroom but because it is a non-optional element of a vocational course they are often actively angry at having to be there.

    This, then, makes me think that you and Walt have a point: creating an atmosphere where the student is given the opportunity to approach the learning at their own speed and in their own style would be ideal.

    My problem is the realpolitik of teaching in England. There is an expectation that all students should be learning in the classroom during the lesson, the teacher should be assessing that learning and if a student isn’t learning the teacher should be working on strategies to rectify that situation. Were I to be observed or inspected and it were essentially revealed that my lesson plan allowed for students not to be learning, the system would not have enough leeway to allow for this strategy.

    This is not a criticism of your idea, which I think shows insight and a fantastically student-centred outlook. I think I am just bemoaning the strictures of the quite rigid system in which I work.

    Thanks again for your thought-provoking blog.

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