Teachers Shifting Gears

My Dad was a talented and sought after auto mechanic; or as he would tell people: I’m an MD–a Motor Doctor. And that he was. There wasn’t a car he couldn’t fix, even if he had to make a part for a vehicle.

When it came time to learn to drive, my Dad insisted I learn to drive stick shift (manual transmission). His argument was worthy; in an emergency, knowing stick shift would allow me to drive anything, even a firetruck. Fortunately, I never had to drive a fire truck! However, one summer as an Assistant Director of a YMCA camp, I was called upon to drive an old stick-shift van (three-on-the-tree) and pull a trailer full of canoes!

Dad’s maxim is on full display now as teachers shift from the classroom to remote learning. Like those newly minted t-shirts say: I will teach you in a room; I will teach you now on Zoom. The creativity displayed on Twitter; the use of all the various offerings on the internet make this an exciting time for teaching and learning. Teachers have been unleashed! Many have shifted educational gears with ease.

In New Jersey, so many of the mandated restraints that I believe constrain teaching have been lifted. Gone for the moment are the onerous hours of PARCC testing; maddening paperwork has been relaxed. Teachers have been encouraged to assess in different ways; they have been given the opportunity not to reduce learning expectations, but to realize that at the moment, some children are in dire situations. (This was quite the sobering example out of Bridgewater, NJ: Who Would Care for Their Children?)

It’s not that I eschew rules; even driving with a manual transmission there are lanes to remain in; turn signals to use; stop signs and stop lights. However, a driver gets to choose the route from Point A to Point B depending on factors and desired outcomes. A route someone might take to a doctor’s appointment is not the same as a route the person would choose for a leisurely drive.

Strong teachers know their students. They know how to motivate them. They know and understand all the variables which come with learning and teaching. In short, they know how to drive students from Point A to Point B, but are mindful that the routes for each child might be different.

My hope is, that when we surface from this extraordinary time, the educational landscape will improve for the betterment of students and teachers. I hope we free the educational teams in districts to do what’s best for children, remembering that while we are all human, we are not widgets. We need to unleash the greatest asset of teachers–the ability to shift gears to meet the educational needs of those they love to teach.

Tony Ferrara standing near a car
My Dad, Tony Ferrara at age 78.

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