Wednesday, April 24, 2013

To a teacher:


Mr. Jim Kearns,

Hello, I’m a former student who has made their way through some higher education and has recently been thinking a lot about teaching and what makes a great teacher. The more I explore these topics, the more I am reminded of your classroom, teaching style, and philosophy about learning. I’m reminded of the relentless energy you funneled into every class (despite it rarely being reciprocated by us students). I’m also reminded of the amount of time and care went into creating each lesson and the structure of the course. What sticks out most though was your approach to learning.

Before I took your class, I never really understood grades. I mean I knew higher is better and lower is worse, but I never really understood what they were supposed to represent. Your class made it so clear: your grade should be equal to your mastery of the material. Which, I realize, seems obvious, but most other classes construe that message into: your grade is equal to your mastery of the material at a certain point in your life. In other words, you get one shot to learn this, and if you don’t, then you might as well give up on learning it. After all, even if you master that material at a later date, the permanence of your test grade forever disputes your claim to that mastery.

It wasn’t until your class that I realized how backward that all is. The test is not a point of arrival; it’s a point of departure. I’m so glad that you understood that, and could help me to understand that too.

Finally, I want to thank you for always being willing to take the next step. After the poor test grade, you were the first to create more opportunities to learn and master the material. If the students that were in my class are any indication, I could understand how this engagement can often feel one-sided. So I wanted to thank you for that self-sacrifice, as well as commend you on your ability to push through the inevitable frustrations. For what it’s worth, it paid off for me.

Thank you,

Nick Diana

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