Crash-Test Teaching

Last fall, as my son and I were having some fun watching football, I was struck by the following commercial:

It is an extremely powerful commercial – one that strikes and resonates within the heart.

And it is so true.  100%.

And not just for cars.

Or crash dummies.

But for everyone.  Always.  Especially in a job where we deal with children.

When I think about that commercial, a few important perspectives come to mind.

First, when we stop to consider that the children who inhabit our classrooms every day are true, unique, and individual people, we are able to see beyond ourselves.  I think that is one aspect of all great educators – they know that their job is something that is more than just an occupation. Great teachers know that their actions matter.  They know that their approach matters.  They know that their daily decisions matter.  Most of all, great teachers know that their students matter.  Because of all of this, great teachers are selfless.

Second, when we think of them as more than just students, but as children, something amazing also happens – we end up caring even more.  There is something unique, special, wonderful and magical about childhood.  We are fortunate in that we get to be part of this special time in our students’ lives.  Because of this, we have the opportunity to enrich their lives in so many ways.  When we create lessons that excite children, we are creating magic.   When we value children and respect them, we are teaching them that that they matter.  When we take the time to remember that they are children and that childhood is special, we create the mindset that allows us to be great teachers.

Third, when we do these things, and when give of ourselves for our students, we enrich not only them, but ourselves.  Teaching is a unique occupation in that we get to see the rewards of our efforts on a daily basis.  The smiles that children share come out when they feel safe, respected, and appreciated.  It becomes a reciprocal arrangement – our great work leads to happy children who, in turn, return our appreciation most often through their own kindness and respect, and sometimes, just from a smile.  Is there anything as wonderful as being on the receiving end of a smile from a child?

Fourth, there are times when we can get frustrated with our students.  It happens.  It happens to even the very best teachers.  There will be times when a child doesn’t do the right thing or shows little growth or no improvement.  Still, that child needs our support.  When teachers take ownership for each child in their class, they find it easier to give each child the supports he or she needs.

Fifth, a literal translation of the commercial reminds us that even the “slowest” or most challenged student isn’t a “dummy,” he’s a very real person.  We shouldn’t put labels on kids – especially negative ones.  Those crash test mannequins aren’t “dummies” to the worker.  That’s why he does his best work – to save lives.  If you think of it in a certain way, teachers also save lives.  Teachers establish an environment that protects children.  Great teachers always remember to help each child grow, not just academically, but socially and emotionally, as well. When teachers teach to this whole child, they open up lives of their students to unlimited potential.

Finally, I think the most powerful aspect of this commercial isn’t the words, it’s what is going on in the man’s head.  He doesn’t see the crash dummies as mere objects, but as his own family.  This aspect of the message really struck me.  As I watched, I thought, “He’s putting his own family in the car – and himself .  Wow!  What a powerful message about his level of commitment.”  This was the Big Moment of the commercial.

As teachers, when we treat every child as if he or she were our own, we invest even more into how we act, how we plan, what we say, and what we do.

When we think about our actions in this light it can make us think and do things differently.  It can make us think and do things better.  It can give us the patience we need when a child exhibits frustrating behaviors.  It can make us take that extra moment to personalize our messages.  When we think of our students as our own, we make the extra efforts to invest ourselves in them.  When we do these things, we also find ourselves giving our students the unconditional love they all deserve.

The technician in the commercial believes so much in the car that he is testing that he’s willing to put his family inside.  As great educators, we should always teach as if the people we care the most about are the ones we are instructing.  We need to always remember to put our own children and our own loved ones (at least figuratively) in our classrooms.  Our classrooms should be safe places for our students so that they are protected from the crashes that will inevitably come before them.

When we invest at this level, we know we are doing the right things for children.

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