376. Reading the Teachers’ Mind

Teachers sometimes ask children questions that have right answers. Certain subjects are full of right answers. Words are usually only supposed to be spelled one way. Fifty-one minus thirty-seven is
fourteen. It’s not a matter of opinion.
But sometimes, there is another kind of “right” answer. That is, the teacher knows what answer he/she wants to hear, and though he/she may nod absent- mindedly while some children give perfectly
valid but unexpected answers, children can tell right away when someone hits the nail on the head. For example, after Ferdinand was brought home
from the “bull fight,” why was he so glad to be next to the cork tree again? “Because he didn’t like fighting the matador?” “Well, yes.” “Because he
was used to it?” “Yeah.” “Because then he could sit and smell the flowers?” “Yes! Yes! Very good!”
Who really knows exactly why Ferdinand was so glad? Munro Leaf may have had some thoughts about the issue. After all, he wrote the book. But
even Mr. Leaf could be wrong. Only Ferdinand knows, and even he may have mixed feelings. But for the average child in school – especially the average young child – that may not be the point. That child is not dealing with Munro
Leaf or Ferdinand. The kid is dealing with the teacher, and would much rather earn a “Yes! Yes! Very good!” than a “Well, yes,” or a “Yeah.”
And so it doesn’t matter what the author or bull is thinking. What matters is what the teacher is thinking.
We teachers don’t always realize that we’re asking children to read our minds. If we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about something, and have
come up with conclusions we take to heart, we can forget that other people may have different, equally valid points of view. We know, on some
level, that they do, but it feels so good when someone validates our thinking by thinking the same thing. And it also feels good to be the child who has done the validating. I remember beaming with pride after I’d successfully read a teacher’s mind.
But that’s not education. On the one hand, if a question really does have one right answer, teachers ought to help children get there. The
square root of eighty-one is nine, and if a child thinks it’s eight, sooner or later the teaching process ought to get the child to realize the mistake. But if a question is open-ended, teachers owe it to children to give all serious answers respect. Children know when the teacher wants
her/his mind read, and many of them will oblige the teacher. So there’s yet another thing to think about on the road to becoming a good teacher. And you know what good teaching is, don’t you? Anybody?

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