Opting In

by Matthew Koslowski on June 30, 2010
in Anecdotes

I have an imperfect memory from the beginning of a middle school — was it sixth grade? Seventh? — science class. But it stands out singularly in my memory of my schooling.

It was the beginning of the year, perhaps even the first day of school. He called on me. I don’t remember what the question was. But I do remember how I felt.

I sat there, uncomfortable, searching. I felt my body growing tense. I felt first embarassed and then afraid.

“I don’t know,” I said, little more than a whisper.

He smiled. “That’s the correct answer — for now. You don’t know, but you will learn. Why else are you in school?” He turned to the rest of the class, “Does anyone else know?” And then he continued with the lesson.

Until that point in school, things came naturally to me and I remember feeling dread and panic that I didn’t already know something. How can I not know this thing? I felt relief and gratitude.

I don’t know that the teacher knows what a gift he gave me that day. I hope that he knows — that he intentionally asked something we unlikely to know, to remind us why we are in school — but I continue to wish that I could tell him. But I think the greatest gift I can give is to learn from his example and give that gift to my students.

Although I still dislike being wrong, I have carried this lesson with me. I know now that being wrong and being ignorant is not a permanent state.


One Response to “Opting In”
  1. Todd says:

    We watched a news clip in Sociology showing how different the Mathematics classes were in Japan compared to America (test scores are considerably higher in Japan). The Japanese teacher did exactly what you described, gave kids a very difficult problem that they could try and solve on their own as a challenge. Then they got to explain their thought process to the class while the teacher commented and steered them to the correct way. Then it showed some American classrooms, where the emphasis is on learning rules, often with no context. Apparently Minnesota has tried to emulate the methods of countries more successful in Math and Science and have had some success.