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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dear Teacher (#3, sort of)

I think I only ever had two teachers who really modeled what rigor looked like.

One was in third grade. Her name was Mrs. Sidwell. She had the most intensely upright posture and a bowl cut that could have been executed by a seven year old.

I don't know why she had such a ridiculous haircut. The posture, though, she explained.

She told us that her mother made her walk around with a broom behind her back and hooked through both elbows. She even demonstrated. It looked as uncomfortable as it sounds.

Anyway, she showed me what rigor was all about in about two minutes every morning.

Mrs. Sidwell would hold an item hidden in her clenched fist behind her back. She would then march back and forth across the front of the room.

As she paraded around, we played twenty questions. She never ever gave us hints. Instead, we were each given an opportunity to ask one question and make one guess.

We went round robin this way until someone figured it out. And we always paid attention because your question and your guess were based on what everyone else had already tried.

I feel pretty confident we got some sort of prize, reward, or precious praise for figuring out what the object was every day. Maybe we just really liked winning.

The thing I know is that we all paid attention, we all tried, and at some point, we all won at least once.

It was one of the most rigorous activities I engaged in as a student and it was soooooo simple. I think the day I won, it was a paperclip.

Rigor isn't about hard, or complicated, or deep. Mrs. Sidwell showed us that rigor was about paying attention and using your brain to figure stuff out. How cool is that?!

The other teacher who modeled rigor was my tenth grade English teacher Mrs. Maude. I hated her and her class. It was usually boring and she was super strict.

Mrs. Maude made a single comment that has stayed with me for over twenty years.

One of our assignments was to self-select a novel, read it, and complete an in class book report.

For me, this was a piece of cake. I could have done it once a week.

The assignment wasn't remarkable to me and I am not even convinced it was all that rigorous on its own merit.

If Mrs. Sidwell helped me understand the value of paying attention and figuring stuff out, Mrs. Maude helped me recognize how much power I had over my own education. How cool is that?!

As a teacher, it can be easy to forget how much influence we have. A single comment can have a lifetime of impact. And while that is kind of terrifying, it is also a good thing.

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