Monday, August 23, 2010

Kindling Wood vs Crutches

Wood is useful stuff.
Consider two possible uses for wood: kindling wood or crutches.

Kindling starts a fire. Crutches help support you.

Teachers are useful people.
Consider two possible uses for teachers: kindling wood or crutches.

As teachers, should we lay back and let students figure it out for themselves or nuture them along?

Suppose I have a student who sometimes oversleeps for lessons. His/Her lesson is at 9:30 am and I suspect they won't make it. It is 9:00 am. What should I do? Should I call them to make sure they are awake??

If I think of myself as kindling wood, then I'm trying to get a fire to burn in this student. Thus I want to help them along. A "kindling wood" teacher makes the call (possibly waking them up).

If I realize that the more I do for a student, the more I become a crutch and they never develop the self-discipline to make it on the own. To not become a "crutch," a teacher doesn't make the call (possibly letting them oversleep).

So these two uses for wood are a symbol for the fundamental question faced by all teachers: is it "sink or swim" or is it "helping hands."

Of course, there is no one answer but it something worth considering.


Greg said...

It's a careful balance I think. Call them at 9:00 one week (probably waking them up). Then the next week don't call and see if they show up on time. If they don't, call them at 9:45. If they are a no show the following week, call them again at 9:45. If they continue not showing, arrange a meeting with them to discuss why they aren't making their lessons.

It's the careful art of making them feel guilty enough that you motivate them into starting their own fire. You start out as crutches and then become kindling wood.

At least, that's just an idea.

Hoyt said...

Really interesting topic Brad. It's a tough question. I remember during my first semester of college, although I was never a "no show" to lessons, I didn't really practice much.

Right before my second semester I heard a recording of Christian Lindberg, and that was the inspirational moment for me. That was what lit my "fire" so to speak.

So as a teacher I try to figure out what kind of kindling each student needs. It's my experience that the students who are truly successful are the ones who are motivated from within.

Greg said...

I think there is danger in both extremes. I've had students who started out completely unmotivated, and due to some successful "babying" from my part became very enthusiastic self-motivated people. Had I just taken a "sink or swim" approach, they probably would have quit years ago.

That being said, I've known many teachers who baby their students the whole way through school. The students succeed despite their lack of motivation, but usually completely check out the instant they graduate. Most of these students that I know are no longer playing.

At some point everyone needs to become self-motivated. The trick is being able to inspire that in people. I think it takes a careful balance of babying and taking the sink or swim approach (and going back and forth). Some students will need more babying than others. That is the nuance of good teaching, and the reason that teaching is every bit as much of an art as playing.

David Wilken said...

Another use for a piece of wood is a club...

But seriously, nice post and good food for thought. In an unrelated comment, would you consider changing your blog's font color/background? The white text over black is a little hard on my eyes, and I'm not that old yet!


Brad Edwards said...

How's this color scheme?
It'll take a while for me to work back and clean out the yellow text but I covered the most recent posts.

David Wilken said...

You're the man! Thanks for the color change!