This morning a colleague was saying, with dismay, that she can teach the same lesson to consecutive, fairly similar classes, and have one lesson soar and the other stumble and fall to pieces, to which another colleague added, “And there seems to be no discernible reason for the difference.” It is, indeed, a mystery, how the same plans, words, even gestures of a teacher can stir up eagerness in one class and only bewilderment in another. It makes no apparent sense. I’m the same teacher at 10:30 and 11:20, and the students are of more or less comparable abilities, and yet wisdom blossoms in one class but only lassitude in the other. It’s even more mystifying than the weather. After all, a good meteorologist can rather easily explain even the most screwball weather patterns, but who can make clear why the same lesson triumphs in 9A and quietly expires in 9B? I’m assuming, of course, that the two classes are of similar abilities and behavior patterns. We all know how one group of kids can seem eminently teachable while another group appears consistently inaccessible, but what if the classes are fairly similar – and still we see the same lesson rise on wings in one class and smash into a stone wall in another? I challenge anyone to find a scientist of any kind who can explain this phenomenon (a regular one for most teachers) with passable accuracy. It speaks of the essential mystery involved in teaching other human beings. The riddles of the weather are second-rate compared to the ambiguities and obscurities that arise when a teacher and students come together.
© 2010 Hamilton Salsich