Perched atop hastily erected towers of dried spaghetti, three marshmallows began to wobble.
On this day, surrounded by stacks of books in the library of Grosse Pointe North High School, Michigan Teacher of the Year Gary Abud had handed out tape, string, dried pasta and a challenge to nearly a dozen newly minted teachers: Erect a spaghetti tower that can hold a marshmallow.
This wasn’t a lesson about gravity or the fortitude of dried noodles.
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Rather, Michigan’s top educator was teaching about lifelong learning, respect, and about letting go — lessons as relevant to those in front of classrooms as they are to those packing lunches or stepping onto a school bus today.
An estimated 1.5 million Michigan students and 100,000 teachers head back to the classroom in the state’s public schools this morning, with a familiar mix of excitement, anxiety, and anticipatory tiredness as they face a new load of classes, homework, sports and carpools.
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“There’s this marvelous phenomenon where we get to start over again every year,” said Kate Murray, North’s principal. “It’s a clean slate, a fresh start. The students get to re-create the academic success they’ve strived for and … teachers have the opportunity to become a better educator.”
In the library last month, Abud watched. The teachers asked for advice in erecting their pasta. Abud, 29, offered nothing.
Students often approach the classroom as they might a bank transaction, seeing a teacher as a “ ‘bank of knowledge, and I’m here to make a withdrawal,’ ” Abud said later.
But the world today isn’t just about collecting information; it’s about applying it, he said.
As it turned out, two of the three teams spent so much time settling on a building plan that they ran out of time for careful construction. Spaghetti towers crashed to the tabletops.
But a third group went to work almost immediately — a team in perpetual motion as they assessed the tower’s strength as it grew and redesigned it when it wobbled with more tape here or an extra strand of spaghetti there.
Their pasta tower — soft white gob on top — stood stable at 47 1/2 centimeters tall. Abud congratulated their teamwork.
This, he believes: Life is a discussion, not a lecture.
Likewise, it is effort that defines a person rather than a grade or any other single point in time, said Abud, a half-marathoner who paces at times and pokes the air in front of him as he punctuates his points.
“We have to be in a growth mindset,” he said. “This is not a fixed world. It’s about moving forward.”
For Abud, the path to teaching began here at North. He was in high school here where he faced the worst of keratoconus, a progressive disease that was snuffing out his vision. Eventually, surgeries saved his vision, and Abud began training as a doctor.
A love for tutoring and teaching piano and spinning classes derailed those plans, luring him toward a classroom in 2008 where he could still fulfill a passion to help others. It took time to adjust. Former teachers were now coworkers with first names. His former English teacher is the principal.
“I had some moments,” he said, chuckling.
In the library on this day, Abud set a scene for these new teachers: A teen girl sneaks out of her house at night, visiting a forbidden boyfriend. They fight; she goes to a sister’s house and is turned away. A coffee shop owner turns her away as well. As she crosses the street, she is killed by a drunk driver.
Who is most to blame for her death?
The teachers in the library talked street lights, curfews, legal issues and family obligations. They scrunched up their faces. Shook their heads. Talked over each other — and at each other.
The drunk was drunk. Family members hadn’t protected her. And there was this from math teacher Eric Vanston, 26: “Nobody deserves to die and I realize I’m sounding insensitive…But if she wasn’t there, she wouldn’t be dead.”
The right answer? There isn’t one. Rather, the lesson was reasoning, articulating and considering others’ ideas, Abud said.
The group had concluded that the drunk was most to blame. His high school students usually decide the teen is most to blame.
“Consensus doesn’t mean you agree. It’s ‘I don‘t agree, but I can see your point.’ ”
Get hold of yourself, and say ‘I can.’
To whom was the poet writing?
It was Abud’s last lesson and library chairs were bunched in a discussion circle. This time, the teachers spoke one at a time. They listened. They built on each others’ opinions.
And that was the lesson. Teaching is also about giving others room to explore and to grow. Teaching is learning, too, by watching the process unfold, Abud said.
“Face it,” Abud said, “Nobody wants to be talked to.”
Article source: http://www.freep.com/article/20130903/NEWS06/309030016/Michigan-s-teacher-of-the-year-offers-lessons-in-learning-other-advice-as-school-year-kicks-off