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Monday, May 18, 2009

How Far Am I Reaching?

One of the most tenuous things in personal life is "reach." Having a teaching background, I always worry about whether my "reach" is sufficient. Test scores and grades give some indication of content retention; however, whether a teacher has made any positive impact on a person's life is largely speculative. One of the hardest parts of teachers' jobs is to know, deep down, that they can never have enough reach. And, they also know they can and will alienate some students as well as encourage others to better their lives. I cringe when I consider students who hated English and their English teacher because of my teaching. But, I accept it. I believe I am a philosophical realist as it relates to truth and how it corresponds to reality. The truth is that most people are masters of their own "reach" outward, but pitifully ignorant slaves to the effect and range these "reaches" have had after they have launched them toward their intended targets. People typically do not receive post-briefings about their effectiveness in reaching out to others on the battlefields of real life. Many of my own teaching experiences have been calculated "shots in the dark" that, for all my good intentions, have either failed miserably or have succeeded moderately. And, to be realistic, I think that papers, tests, and completed tasks (though often revealing some knowledge attained) do not adequately demonstrate the range and effectiveness of a given task. Now, don't read this incorrectly. A perfect 36 English ACT score definitely shows a student has great talent and unusually high potential to succeed in this area; however, the score does not reflect the initiative and commitment to industry that will enable the student to master a related English career. Intangibles always seem to cloud the waters whether interpreting acquired knowledge or predicting future achievement. Being a great believer in "planting a seed" of knowledge with my reach, I always hope the seed will go through later vegetative and reproductive stages in the mind of my target. To help accomplish this, I try to relate information in a manner that encourages long-term retention, so with results that require long periods of time to reveal themselves, problems do arise with feedback. In fact, usually I get no feedback at all. When I do receive positive news, it is most appreciated. For example, my experience is that a grade is a symbol of accomplishment, but not a true symbol of how effective I have "planted" the information in the student's brain. A grade is a rather subjective mark on paper. Many students are taught by parents that grades guarantee success in post-secondary endeavors. And, many parents are proven wrong. Or, likewise, the National Honor Society is a reflection of achievement in the areas of the distinguished hallmarks of service, leadership, scholarship, and character but induction does little to insure growth of these characteristics in the future and to provide proof of the far reach of the good of its members. In fact, I often think inclusion in NHS is as much a "rest of laurels" as a challenge to many. If the grade or the induction is the true goal, then I believe some hypocrisy must exist. Do we merely want students to be "good" just because they are members of a well-intentioned organization? If that's the case, we should start an additional "Almost National Honor Society" to encourage "pretty good" behavior. I might vote for that, myself. In short, how do I know if I "reach" anyone with information or with any subjective belief? My philosophical reality rests on making such subject matter available for the willing to partake. Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams once commented about those that fail 'only' seven times out of ten attempts will be among the greatest in the game. He was right. But, a player must swing the bat in order to qualify. I can throw the pitches, but the student must swing. In addition, when I consider positive impact, I like to believe learners will retain both subject matter and positive philosophical matter. What good is one without the other? With an estimated I.Q. of 141, Hitler was a political genius. He brought Germany out of poverty and then usurped all the power of German government. But with the slightly lower estimated I.Q. of 138, Thomas Jefferson would be my choice of the two for the person with the more positive political and social impact. Adolf Hitler was a leader who controlled by manipulation and annihilation; Jefferson was a political visionary and an early champion of democracy. So, if we cannot realistically realize the impact and scope of our reach, should he even worry about it. My answer is "yes." No reach can benefit without extension. As humans, we have a commitment to keep reaching out even in a perceived darkness of harvest and opportunity. Thanks to Virginia Reeves for her article "Traits of Effective, Respected, and Liked Leader" For a free subscription to her e-zine, click here. Here are some good traits of effective leaders who repeatedly reach their marks: (1) A respected and liked leader operates from a base of integrity and honesty. (2) Leaders find ways to create small wins for the team as this helps to motivate people to continue striving and achieving towards individual and group efforts. (3) A sense of humor helps keep the perspective - especially when times are tense or troubled. Let's face it, hardly anything in life can't be laughed at if you look for that element. (4) A good leader learns to listen attentively to what is said between the lines and for ferreting out what else needs to be brought out into the open. (5) Discovering the way someone processes their thoughts and how those turn into actions is a prime responsibility for an effective leader. (6) General H. Norman Schwarzkopf says, "Some of the best leadership lessons I learned as a young officer were from terrible officers. I mean, absolutely morally bankrupt officers who had no redeeming qualities." You learn how not to do it this way, and, therefore, how to do it. Just for fun, here is a list of the "Top Twenty Things That Will Impact Your Life" from childhood, teen years, to adulthood by CharandGary'sGab at on May 7, 2007. This list is certainly not researched. It was an on-the-spot survey conducted among a few good friends. You probably have some very different ideas. Feel free to share. The Top Twenty Things That Will Impact Your Life. 1.) Your first day of school. 2.) Your first crush on a boy or girl. 3.) Your first romantic kiss. 4.) Your first win (sports, spelling bee, job interview, debate, graduation) 5.) Your first erection or your first period. 6.) Your first make out session an/or (big O). 7.) Your first day of your very first job. 8.) The first time you are fired, and or quit a job. 9.) Your wedding day. 10.) Your honeymoon. 11.) Your first major fight as man and wife. 12.) Your first bar, or night club experience. 13.) Your first drink. 14.) The first moment you find out you will become a parent. 15.) The moment you hold your first child. Or give birth to your first child. 16.) Your first major health issue or operation. 17.) Your first religious experience. 18.) When your parents or best friend dies. (first funeral) 19.) Holding your first grand child. 20.) Your first heart break.
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