The head of school called it a “small shop”, and he was right. Their top grade is half the size of my current school, and it makes for a flattened administration. I met a big staff of teachers, not many exclusive-administrators other than the head, and I gathered that a lot of the parents do a lot of volunteer work. It was, if you will, evidence that a small school can thrive without having a lot of specialized staff.
I packed up all my spices and props for my lesson on the navigation school of Prince Henry of Portugal, and Bartholemeiu Dias, and Vasco DaGama early this morning. And then I forgot the box and bag, and left them on the kitchen counter.
It didn’t matter. The sixth graders I got to teach were charming — eager, excited, clever, thoughtful, helpful to each other, considerate. One kid couldn’t find the words I wanted. I’d called on him even though he hadn’t raised his hand. After a moment, I asked him if he wanted help. He nodded, desperately, and asked a classmate. The classmate gave a great answer, and the boy I’d called on said “Oh, right. That.”
Then I took a leaf from Doug Lemov’s book, Teach Like a Champion, which I started reading yesterday. “Right, that, what?” And I made him explain exactly what the other kid said. He writhed for a moment, and then gave the answer. The rest of the class, they were engaged. And on.
We talked about a lot of stuff. The whirling planet beneath their feet. The sailors not only studying sailing, and shipbuilding, but mathematics and astronomy. The complicated mechanical toys of Middle Eastern courts, and the lavish displays of wealth. And the Italian monopoly on Mediterranean trade, and the Arab monopoly on Indian Ocean and Silk-Road trade. Marco Polo, and Matteo Ricci, and their efforts to secure the knowledge of silk manufacturing. The origins of the slave trade. The discovery of the Equator. Most of the kids were scribbling notes the whole time… Liz, whose classroom and whose students they were, apparently leaned over and whispered to the head of school, “Don’t worry about the other interviews. Hire this guy.”
But the truth is, I couldn’t have done it without her. They were so ready. SO ready. They were primed with ideas about how to take notes. How to answer questions. How to volunteer. How to help a student in difficulty. Even how to draw a map on the board, and how to remind students (kindly, no less!) how to add corrections.
We have a tendency, in this business, to look at our students’ failures when they come to us. “You don’t know how to take notes? How to outline? What about mind maps? No? Can you read a topographical map? No????” And we blame the teachers who came before.
But every so often, it’s clear just how indebted you are to the ones who came before. And if I get this job, I owe Liz a lot — she gave me a class with exactly the range of skills I looked for and wanted to find. She showed me, through her students, that her she ran a quality program, and the same would be expected of me. That means her students are prepared for whatever comes next, with as much of a general, all-purpose education as it’s possible to have in sixth grade.
Thanks, Liz. Even if I don’t get the job, thank you.