Wise Word Wednesday: Twain on What I Ought to Tell Parents at Open House



First, an
explanation: For ten years and one week now I have taught in a school that
begins every morning with a quote of the day. These are sometimes
inspirational, sometimes educational, and sometimes downright corny. Yet, no
matter how many mornings I roll my eyes at the p.a. speaker, these quotes have
become part of my daily routine. I became so accustomed to them that last
summer I found myself missing them and actually downloaded an app for my phone
that would provide me a quote of the day even when I wasn’t teaching. (I have
never denied being a dork, so why start now?)

I began
starring the ones I really liked only to later wonder what the purpose was. I
never bothered to share those I liked with the secretaries at school who choose
the quotes, so what was I stashing them for? My little words of wisdom stayed
saved in my smart phone for my enjoyment only.

Tonight I’m
setting them free! I’m ending my selfish streak and sharing with the world (or
however many readers I still have after this post) my thoughts on the wise and
witty words of others. I won’t be overly ambitious and promise this will be a
weekly feature. We all know how well I do with weekly posts, but if nothing else
I may use them on weeks I skipped my regular blog and need a quick ready-made
topic to write about.

Feel free to
suggest a quote, throw in your two-cents on the chosen quote, or leave
suggestions for how I could otherwise get a life in the comments.


On the eve
of open house, I’m pondering Twain, who is attributed with saying,

“I never
let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Tomorrow night is my
curriculum night, a chance for teachers to explain to parents what they hope
students will learn in their classrooms that year. Like I’ve done for the last
decade, I will stand up in front of the parents of my students and pontificate
about the importance of the proper use of possessives, I will defend the
teaching of direct objects, and I will implore them to get their kids to read

I will only be telling
them half the truth. Because Twain had it right: the most important things I
can attempt to teach my students, the most important things they can learn on their own,
are not in any state standard or text book.

As an English teacher and
author, I suppose I owe some credit to Miss Kent and her cursed Warner’s
grammar text, but who I am and how I got here had more to do with the people
and events in my life than any fact or skill I ever learned. I think I first
really grasped this when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I spent the
entire fall of senior year sitting in classrooms grinding my teeth in contempt
for teachers who seemed to think that their subjects were the most important
things I’d learn that year, when what I was really learning about was the
importance of family, friends, faith, and strength. Of course, I was seeing
things then through the eyes of a scared, angry teenager.

Now, I’m that teacher who
often has to act like my subject is all-important, while knowing that many of my students have much heavier matters than plurals
to deal with in their lives. Last year this hit home again when my seventh
graders suddenly and unexpectedly lost a classmate to an illness. No one attempted
to teach those first couple days, but eventually we were asked to return to
normal routines, despite the fact that few were learning anything we were
teaching. I was more than okay with that, because, though it was the hardest
way they could possibly learn it, our students learned more lessons last spring
than any class before them. They learned that adults don’t always have the
answers. They learned that it is okay, at any age, to cry. They learned the
importance of supporting each other. And eventually they learned that it is acceptable, healthy even, to laugh again after such tragedy.

I never want any kid to
have to learn such lessons so tragically or so soon, but I also never want to
pretend that what I have to teach could ever compare with such lessons. So I
will champion the value of literacy tomorrow night, and I’ll mean what I say
about being passionate about writing and literature, but I also know I’ll only
be telling half the story. What I really wish for my students to learn, they’ll
need to discover on their own through their successes, failures, adventures,
and, unfortunately, their tragedies. My real job this and any year is to school them without getting too much in the way of their real education.



Filed under Teaching

3 responses to “Wise Word Wednesday: Twain on What I Ought to Tell Parents at Open House

  1. Great post. I think this is the best post you have written here, and I couldn’t agree more.


  2. Lauren's Blog

    Thanks, Steve!


  3. Lisa

    Ditto what Steve said. I love that last line, sounds like the perfect title for a book on middle school education!


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