Seven and a half years ago, I started my first day of teaching at Oak Grove School. I had spent the summer lesson planning, figuring out how to adjust from teaching 40 students a class to teaching 12 to 16. As 8:00am approached, I put on my game face, ready to show the kids that I was a force that should not be trifled with.
As the students filed in, I said in my most stentorian voice, “My name is Mister umm Will, and I am going to start with my expectations for the class, which are EXTENSIVE. I began rattling off my policies on tardiness, food in the classroom, punctuality, ad nauseam. Had I looked up from my notes, I might have noticed a bemused expression on the students’ faces. However, my lecture was interrupted by a student who burst through the door with a haggard expression on his face. He announced, “I am so sorry. I ran over a squirrel on my way to school and I had to stop and think about that for a while.”
This stopped me in my tracks. I paused to consider how to proceed. My professional instincts and training urged me to continue with my lecture, knowing that one can only fit so much curriculum into my 181 days of instruction. However, another part of my brain started prodding me in another direction. This inquiring, curious part of my brain had atrophied in recent years, and it begged for some exercise. So I turned to the student. A small smile started to crack the facade of my game face and I asked: “So after you hit that squirrel, what did you think about?” So, we spent the first day of US history class engaged in a free-ranging discussion on death, random chance, moral agency, and ethics.
Krishnamurti writes: Education in our schools is not only the acquisition of knowledge, but what is far more important, the awakening of intelligence, which will then utilize knowledge. It is never the other way around.
Something awakened in me that day; I suppose I could call it intelligence, and it profoundly changed the way I approach teaching and my relationship with my students. The culture of this school has a way of changing those who come into its orbit. However, we sometimes forget that this change is not limited to students. While our focus remains on the students, the magical thing about this place is its ability to awaken intelligence and to promote a culture of self-inquiry in the community of teachers, parents, alumni, and community members.
So I wish to challenge you with this question: How has this school, this wonderful institution of learning, led you to consider and question your own ways of thinking?
-Will Hornblower, High School History Teacher
Adapted from a speech written for the Tea Fundraiser