Rodney EarleGood teaching can be one of the most powerful forces in shaping the future, Rodney Earle affirmed in his January 29 lecture in the Power of Teaching series. Earle shared experiences and insights, with a generous sprinkling of humor and an occasional Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

“My life was changed by a teacher,” Earle commented. He related an experience when as a young student in Australia he and a group of other young men participated in a swearing contest. When his turn came, he started rattling off every curse word he knew, until he noticed a look of fear coming across his classmates’ faces. He turned around and was confronted by his favorite teacher.

“All he did was look at me, shake his head in disappointment, and walk away,” Earle said. “I have never sworn since. Really.” He explained that getting the corporal punishment by the strap or cane probably would not have changed him, but the disappointment he saw in the eyes of his favorite teacher changed his whole life.

Earle said that teachers need to learn, just as their students do. “I have been a learner as much as a teacher,” he said. He shared an experience he had as a teacher in British Columbia teaching special education, which helped him to see the potential of his students. He asked the principal for coping saws and other tools for the students to use in making wooden placemats. “They were able to do it,” he said.

Earle described how teaching is hard work. “It is a dynamic, complex mixture of science and art,” he said. He also pointed out that one of the greatest fears of humans is public speaking. “You will do that the rest of your careers,” he said.

Earle explained that the relationship between teacher and learner is synergistic—the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. “Both the teacher and the learner have responsibility and accountability,” he explained. He gave an analogy to construction studs: Each can hold 650 pounds alone, but together their capacity jumps to 2,500 (1,250 each).

Earle finished by sharing an example of the effects that teachers can have on their students. He read a letter from one of his special education students in British Columbia. She has written him every year for 40 years because she has felt a special relationship with him as the teacher who changed her life.

Earle's presentation can be accessed here.

13 April 2009