My years as a teacher and more recently, as an administrator, have provided me with countless memories of lessons I have taught and lessons I have learned. So much time spent on preparing a lessons for countless topics. Lessons that often sparked rich discussion in the classroom, questions that would build to a cacophony of voices, leaving you feeling exhausted yet energized all at the same time.
As a teacher you are always aware that students come to school with unique stories and experiences that shape their young lives. That some topics covered in class may have great significance in a student’s life. I especially found this to be true when teaching Biology. I was always aware when certain lessons were coming up that they could have great impact. Lessons that involved learning about pregnancy, disease and cancer tended to be particularly charged. These lessons were often accompanied by questions and discussion which could spill over to after school time, with students often staying beyond the dismissal bell to continue the conversations.
Years ago, I wrote a poem about a Lesson Plan, which reflects on my experience in the classroom.
Today’s lesson in on cancer,
students will be taught
the process of carcinogenesis:
initiation, promotion, progression, metastasis.
She looks up from her desk
and I see pain in her eyes,
a pain that one should never see
in the eyes of such a young girl.
She should have the world in her hands,
not on her shoulders.
She talks to her friend about how she wishes
she could take pictures in her mind,
pictures to help her remember the details,
every moment of her childhood.
She stays behind after class
to ask questions,
questions I don’t want to answer.
I tell her the gentle truth.
She thanks me,
her chin quivers and a lone tear
trickles down her cheek.
“My father is battling a brain tumor.
It is not going well.”
Today’s lesson was on cancer,
I was taught the process of carcinogenesis:
strength, pain, courage, love.
I look back on some of the lesson plans and I remember how it felt to watch students who had experienced a loss in their lives, support and encourage other students struggling with a similar situation. How a student who had given birth a year before became a support for another young mother-to-be. How important it is to build relationships with students, to foster a culture of support in the classroom, in the school.
As educators, there is little doubt that our days are filled with teaching and learning. We teach and students learn. Students teach and we learn.