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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Grain Of Sand

There are various metaphors that seek to describe the impact of teachers. Often, these expressions speak of the ripples that spread from a pebble tossed in the pond, or blossoming flowers, or trees with expansive reach into the sky. However, there are innumerable pebbles and ponds, countless fields of flowers, and many thick forests of trees, while the public considers the ranks of truly great teachers as far less in number, easier to count, and much thinner in breadth.

Actually, remarkable teachers are more numerous than one can calculate. The difference in perception may be attributed to the rather lengthy period of time between the act of teaching and the impact of teaching. That is, we are not likely to experience the effect of the greatly skilled teacher in a sudden and immediate sense, moments after the lesson is finished. Instead, we will more probably realize the benefit when confronted with a challenge or new experience long after the textbooks close and the classroom door is shut. It's when we stretch ourselves in some form or fashion and achieve success that we reflect on the words or acts of a teacher that provided the leverage needed to reach our objectives and solve our problems.

Think of sand. There are untold billions and billions of grains of sand here, there, and virtually everywhere. In fact, there's so much sand we take it for granted and overlook any benefits that might accrue from sand - in a manner much like many people view teachers.

Now think of pearls. Natural pearls, not cultured pearls. These exquisite items are valued for their beauty and may fetch a considerable amount of money. Like most anything else, supply and demand determine pricing. The fewer there is of a product or service, the more it generally costs.

What a contrast, sand and pearls. Sand is ubiquitous, while natural pearls are relatively rare.

Now, let's compare the two with a different perspective. How is a pearl created? ­"The formation of a natural pearl begins when a foreign substance slips into the oyster between the mantle and the shell, which irritate­s the mantle. It's kind of like the oyster getting a splinter. The oyster's natural reaction is to cover up that irritant to protect itself. The man­tle covers the irritant with layers of the same nacre substance that is used to create the shell. This eventually forms a pearl."

That source of the irritation that eventually results in the pearl is often a grain of sand. Substitute the word "teacher" for "leader" in the following quote by Ronald Heifitz and Riley Sinder in The Josey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership, and you may see the influence of teachers in a much better light. “A leader’s vision is the grain of sand in the oyster, not the pearl.” (Ronald Heifitz and Riley Sinder)

Teachers, though nearly as plentiful as grains of sand, and I suspect viewed by many learners at some point as irritants, provide the stimulation that significantly contributes to producing future successes - we just don't understand the potential impact at the point we receive the service. Each child has the possibility of making a future as valuable as the pearl. It is the child who can make the pearl, it is the teacher who advances the process. 


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