Thursday, June 26, 2008


Y is for Yeast

Over the years I’ve enjoyed contemplating various analogies for teaching, and one of my favorites is “the teacher as yeast”. I sometimes compare my students to smooth and perfectly rounded lumps of dough, and I am the tiny amount of miniscule grains of yeast that will help the students transform themselves into beautiful “loaves of bread”. The word “transform” is appropriate here, because yeast does, in fact, aid in the total makeover of sugar to carbon dioxide and alcohol. Sugar literally disappears and two new creations take its place, enabling the dough to rise and be “reborn” as bread. Something similar happens in a good middle school classroom (and occasionally, I hope, in mine): through the gradual fermentation of teaching and learning, self-centered children slowly disappear, and empathetic, unbiased young adults are born anew. One of the interesting facts about the chemical fermentation process is that it splits complex organic compounds into relatively simple substances, and the same, in a way, is true of the education process. Students can often appear to be a jumble of intricate and inscrutable qualities, but the measured and irresistible processes that take place in a good classroom can slowly reveal the actual simplicity of their natures. Thanks to the quiet but steady effervescence that is present in some classrooms, students can be slowly reborn as relatively uncomplicated, straightforward, and fervent learners. In a way, I guess I want to be, like yeast, the foam and froth in my classroom. I want to be an agent of ferment or activity, someone who -- quietly and in the background and with almost total anonymity -- effects a significant transformation in his students. Revolutions for good are happening inside my students during their middle school years, and I want to be a small part of the yeast that drives those revolutions.

No comments: