While gazing out my window this morning, I noticed it was one of those days: those cold, sunny days in Winter. For those who live where snow is a novelty and not a way of life from October to May, that may seem odd to you. But the sunny days are the worst. They are the most bitterly cold. There is no cloud cover to keep in the warmth, so it seems to just leak from the air and vanish.
However, there’s something really wonderful about these days, too. Let me share a story.
I have 2 brothers, and when we were growing up, we were the main snow-shoveling age kids on the street. We had a few retired couples, a widow, some families with younger kids, and some families with kids who had already left home. So we did a lot of the shoveling for the elderly folks on our short street.
One day, I was shoveling the drive of our neighbor, Mrs. Bommarito. My older brother was shoveling our drive. He wasn’t doing a great job. There was packed-down snow and ice from people walking and cars driving over it, and he was just leaving it on the driveway! I was going to do a much better job. I mean, I didn’t want Mrs. Bommarito to slip and fall because I had left a spot untouched. So I shoveled away the top layer of snow. When it got to the packed-down stuff, I chipped away at it. I grabbed our smaller metal shovel, designed to cut through ice, and got every last piece of snow and ice off the pavement. I was out there at least half an hour longer than my brother, but I did a far superior job. I took a look at my work, and I was quite proud of what I had done.
Then I turned around (Mrs. Bommarito’s house was on the other side of the street from ours), and I saw what my brother had left. When he went in over half an hour earlier, there was still all the packed-down snow. But much to my amazement, it was now all gone! I hadn’t heard anyone else shoveling. Nobody came and finished the job. How did that happen?
What I really wanted to know: how did he do the exact same job that I did, even though I put in so much more time and effort?
The answer was simple: it was one of those cold, sunny days. The sun, being unimpeded by any clouds, melted away what my brother had left. I bet if you looked closely, you would have seen sublimation take place. Meanwhile, he was inside with a hot drink, while I was doing the work that the sun would have done for me.
So what’s the lesson here?
How often do we work, as teachers, harder than we need to in order to reach our students and help them learn? What are the things that are already in place for us that will help our students if we just get out of the way and let them do their thing? I can think of a few:
- Cell phones
- Interest in the content
- Engagement with the activity
Are we so scared of some of these things that we don’t use them to their full potential? Are we working twice as long as we have to, while our colleagues sit at home with a nice drink, achieving the same results?
Here’s the rub: this snow shoveling trick only works on the sunny days. If you leave the packed-down ice out there on a cloudy day, or at night, it turns to ice. There is nothing more dangerous on your pavement. But those sunny days: they’re bitterly cold.
We have to endure the cold of the sunny days in order to let the sun do its trick. We have to test the uncertain waters of using cell phones. We have to put in the work to find out our students’ interests so we can use them to our advantage. We have to help our students be engaged with the material. This is hard work. But which would you rather do: work harder so your students will learn more effectively and efficiently, or work harder so your students will learn in a way that takes more time and effort?</P.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s a bitterly cold, sunny day. And there’s snow on my driveway.
While writing this post, I looked up Mrs. Bommarito to make sure I was spelling her name correctly. In doing so, I discovered she passed away in January 2012. She was a fixture in my childhood, as we went to church together and then out to brunch at Big Boy’s afterwards. Thank you for this lesson that you didn’t even know you were teaching me.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her. May she rest in peace. Amen.