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Use a Scalpel Not a Band-aid or What I Learned From Ray

As a new teacher I I learned so much from being able to work closely on a team with Ray Moore.

One thing Ray taught me was to focus on what our students really need. I would describe his lesson as follows: Don’t use a band-aid when you need a scalpel.

Like most teachers, my goal was to impact the lives of my students. I would love for one of them to say one day that I was the reason for some positive direction they took. My ultimate goal in the classroom – beyond teaching them history – was to guide them in life and to prepare them to succeed in the world.

In order to have this impact on students we must first determine what stands in the way of success. Will it be whether or not they know all about history? Will it be whether or not they have mastered any specific subject in school? I’m pretty sure that the lack of content knowledge will not be the determining factor in whether or not our students live autonomous, fulfilling, and rewarding lives.

What will stand in the way? The answer is large. What will most open or close doors to their futures will be their ability to make decisions, their ability to relate to others, their outlook and attitude about life, their work ethic, and their character. Think about it – aren’t these the things that get in their way everyday as students? Aren’t successful students the ones that make better decisions, relate well to others, have a positive and productive attitude and outlook, work hard, and display character?

So if I want to reach my ultimate goal as a teacher, I must focus on teaching students about those things that most get in their way. To not do so, to simply focus on teaching history, is only applying a band-aid to the problem. I, instead, need a scalpel, so I can dig a little deeper and remove that which needs removing.

Think about your own classroom. Are you actively and purposefully teaching students about life? Are you regularly and purposefully providing them with examples of the types of outlook, attitude, and character that will need to succeed? What are you doing to teach them about working hard and waiting for the results?

I learned so much from watching how Ray turned regular 9th grade English lessons into life lessons. When I read Romeo & Juliet in school it was just “boring Shakespeare.” For Ray’s students it’s about teenagers allowing the present to mess up the future. It’s about victim statements and the impact of bad decisions. For many students, To Kill a Mockingbird is simply a classic. For Ray’s students Atticus Finch becomes the ultimate example of what true strength and character looks like. Ray’s ninth graders learn from Shoeless Joe how to have a dream, work hard to reach it, and wait patiently to reach that dream. It becomes a story of how decision making makes all the difference.

At the end of each year, Ray’s students write a Theme of the Year Paper. They have to describe with supporting detail what Ray’s theme was. Ray never tells them the theme, yet all students know what it is. While they might each describe it in their own way and with their own words, they all talk about believing in something, about making decisions, about working hard, and about living life in a way that leads to success. (Click here to hear one student talk about what he learned in Ray’s class.)

Could your students write a theme of the year paper for your class? Could your students describe what you have taught them about what is most important in life? If not, then what you could you do to begin using a scalpel instead of a band-aid?

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