Filling Their Backpacks

Posted by Lynn Evans on 11/21/2017 12:10:00 PM

John Dewey said, "Education is not preparation for life. Education is life."

     There are few professions where you can see the impact of your work so vividly. There aren't many jobs where hero, friend and mentor are part of the job description. There are few careers that have such a lasting impact on an entire generation.

     I like teaching. I like learning about teaching. And I especially like reading others' teaching philosophies. I love it when teachers select analogies, such as, “teaching is like lighting a bonfire”, or “teaching is like giving students wings”, that explain, instruct and inspire.

     For me, teaching is a little like stuffing a backpack. You know the ones I mean, the heavy-duty, oversize backpacks that students shoulder down the halls of our schools. In these metaphorical backpacks, students carry with them the knowledge and skills they will need for their journey through life. When students enter our classrooms, their backpacks have already been partially filled by families, life experiences and other instructors. The backpacks are deep and sometimes it's hard to see what they are carrying in there.

     Through our teaching, we attempt to place items in our student' backpacks. All children do not arrive to school with a backpack full of the same experiences, nor are they all equally full. When students first enter our classrooms, we must determine what is in the backpack and begin filling from there. We add the foundations of language, reading, mathematics, the mechanics of writing and skill development. We pack in sharing and caring, character development, listening skills.  Art, music and physical wellness are placed in the pack as well.

     By this time, the students' backpacks are pretty full, but we're not done yet. Our next job is to expand their backpacks so that more will fit in them. We do this by asking them to analyze, question and think.

     As children grow and mature, we ask them to look at what is in their backpacks and apply the items to real world situations. Sometimes, we can actually see their backpacks grow during class as they experience new ways of thinking about an issue. And sometimes students have to discard something from the bottom of their backpacks that has lain there, unexamined, for many years to make room for a new idea.

     The good thing about stuffing a backpack is that it’s a lot of fun!  We also know that as soon as students are out of our sight, they dump things out of the backpack to lighten the load. With these characteristics in mind, we can't just force items into the backpack. We have to get students to want to carry our backpack stuffers around. So we try new things in teaching. What do students discard?  How can we get items to stick around longer in the backpack?  Will this exercise expand that backpack or not? Mistakes are okay, because we can always try again. In addition, we find that the students might not notice how heavy the backpack has become if the stuffing process is interesting and even entertaining.

     As students move through our school system, eventually they leave us. Hopefully, they take with them backpacks that are full of all the tools they need for a fulfilling life. Our sincere desire is that they journey farther than we have, see more, and achieve more. And somewhere along the way, they'll pull something out of their backpacks and think of a teacher who placed it there.