Roll Up Your Sleeves

Yesterday our school had its ‘Inter-house Swimming Gala,’ a day-long contest in which the school’s houses swam for victory, or waited to swim for victory. Hong Kong is studded with municipal swimming pools or, more accurately, complexes comprising many pools and ‘lakes’ with geographic features and, in the case of ‘our’ pool, bleachers; for we had the gala at one of the municipal pools.

I took not one but two seats in the Sargent House bleachers: one for myself and one for the steady stream of students who came by to talk during the gaps between cheers about their IB English submissions and their college admission essays. Finally, a bit after my last student conference and a bit before the end of the gala, I left with a colleague to attend a citywide meeting of teachers of the IB’s Theory of Knowledge course. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the recently released ‘Prescribed Titles’ for ToK essays, due in March. The talks were productive and helpful.

This morning I had a letter from a former colleague, also of mature years if not as mature as mine, who with his wife took a job at another school in east Asia. Now, this former colleague established and ran one of the world’s pre-eminent Model United Nations conferences and took his students to two other conferences in addition to his work as a successful IB history teacher. He wrote to say that he was overwhelmed with work, though I guess he will find a way, as he always used to do, to stay on top of it. (When I had to go in to the school on weekends, as often as not he was there planning the week or the conference ahead. He is the teacher who taught me to use classroom furniture flexibly depending on the kind of lesson to be taught.)

Also this morning I read a wonderful article in The New York Times about Xavier University, a Catholic historically black college founded in New Orleans by St. Katharine Drexel, which has the most successful rate of placing African-American graduates in medical schools of any undergraduate program in the country, including the Ivies. I was highly impressed by the determined dedication to teaching and learning displayed by its faculty, and by the same kind of dedication displayed by its students, many of whom were from disadvantaged backgrounds and the first in their families to attend college.

The title of today’s posting is the Text: “Roll Up Your Sleeves.” Though care must be taken to avoid burnout in students or teachers, the late Jaime Escalante, a high-school teacher of renown, put succinctly what he thought the “secret” of success in teaching and learning was: “a very simple and time-honored tradition: hard work for teacher and student alike.”

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