Teach a Girl to Teach

An old Asian proverb hides right up the teacher’s sleeve.


Give a man a fish; you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; you feed him for a lifetime.

That’s why today when a ninth-grader asked me a simple question from her homework, one that I knew was hidden in the lesson we completed two days ago, I grinned and said nothing.

“Why bark if you have a dog?” That’s how my mom said it. And I knew it would then be worthless to ask her to do something I could easily do myself.

A teacher is not an answer key. He is a question box. And while I will gladly do the work required for me to teach effectively, I will not do for my student what he or she was sent to school to do.

Students learn by digging; and by digging they learn to learn. This kind of learning will last a lifetime.

Sometimes it’s even one better to get them to teach.

After school on Fridays this winter, we’ve been having a kid’s club. Children from the village come to sing, have a Bible lesson, eat a snack, listen to a story, and go home again.

My students teach. And it’s been a delight for me to sit back and watch. The first evening I walked away and grinned from ear to ear all weekend. Give a girl a classroom, and she blossoms.

Give them a fish, and you feed them for today.

Teach them to teach, and they may be poor all their lives.

But they will be happy.

Small Things

Teachers cover for teachers. Husbands cover for wives. I could never do enough to repay my co teacher for also being my wife, but I do cover classes for her sometimes.

Like on Tuesday when the ladies from church were meeting to spend the day sewing. Claudia joined them for lunch; and since my girl students went along and left me with one boy only to teach, I stepped across the hall and taught Claudia’s littles.

She has one first grader and two second graders, all as sharp as can be. It was fun spending the day teaching about squirrels whose front teeth wiggle and bats who feed their babies milk.

Where have we lost the wonderment that lies in the simple things? Somewhere among the quarks and hemoglobins, I guess.

Spring is nearly sprung. Pick a wildflower; and instead of classifying it as a monocotyledon of dicotyledon, just smell it.

Humpty Dumpty

There are beautiful moments when the students rally around their teacher. I had one such moment last week. But for me personally, it was less than fun.

There is a fence around the soccer field at school. It is about eight feet high and five rams live on the other side of it.

Now when Claudia was young and her family played baseball in the yard behind her house, her dad made the rule that “over the fence is out”. He even wrote a poem about it.

We need the same rule in kickball. But I’ve always felt that it’s special to kick the ball far and high enough to send it over the fence. In fact the students seem to like it too, if they are on the team who sent it there. When a seventh grader sends the ball over the fence, the small ones on his team go running around the bases behind him: practicing home runs, I guess.

The opposing team likes it less.

Last week I was an outfielder when the ball sailed out and over the fence. I raced after it, grabbed the mesh wire and pulled myself to the top. I did not hesitate there, but prepared to land on my feet and scoop up the ball.

I could hear the cheers of the smaller ones taking off around the bases. I could hear the groan of a teammate, “It’s no fair! He just kicks it over the fence and gets a free home run.” I thought about my father-in-law’s rule. I thought about how that student needs to not be such a complainer.

I leapt. But the fence has wires about two inches long poking out the top of it. My shoe snagged and I slanted toward the sheep pasture. For a split second my shoe held before it slipped off my foot, but it was enough. My arms were not out to catch me, and I fell chest first on the packed earth.

It was not my life that flashed before my eyes. One moment, I was thinking of how to help a student overcome grumpiness. The next, I was eye level with small pieces of sheep excrement, and I was wondering at the shape of it, and surprised at the quantity, and afraid I may be rolling over piles of it.

I couldn’t breathe or talk. I could only roll back and forth like a windshield wiper.

The students came running and I sat up rocking and tried to tell them everything was okay. It’s tough to talk when you’ve recently rammed yourself down in a ram pen. “I’m..” I breathed, “I’m..” another breath, “..okay.”

“There, I can breathe again.”

I stood up as proof that all was well, and threw the ball back into the playground.

The students suggested calling the ambulance or taking me to the hospital to make sure I was all right. I shook my head and brushed off my pants.

Later, at lunch, I heard debates about who laughed and who didn’t when they saw me topple. I heard them discussing whether or not a fall like that could kill someone. Then they were telling me how glad they were I was okay. It felt good, and I felt cared for.

“You’d miss me if I died, wouldn’t you?” I asked.

A fourth grader pursed his lips and replied, “Well, Claudia would cry really much and it would be so sad.”

I shook my head and walked back to the office.

That night my dear wife soaked my pants in vinegar water to get the stains out and make all things good as new again.

When we all work together

The list would be long indeed if I were to enumerate all the things my students have done for me in the last five years. This year I have one who is building my house.

Claudia and I bought some land in this village and plan to build a house and live here. The property is a little hillside orchard: walnuts, cherries, plums, apples, and enough open field for a chalet and a courtyard of roses.

But the process of housebuilding in Romania is not one I am familiar with. Permits are fewer and rather dependent on cups of coffee and the prevailing mental state of the mayor. A greater portion of the labor is manual. Such as digging a foundation.

Last week I staked off the four corners of our proposed house. I explained to the math class the next day how I used the Pythagorean formula to make it square.

A twelfth grade girl wondered when I’ll start digging the foundation.

“I’m checking rates and thinking of using a machine. We need to dig in a water line anyway so I might as well hire out the whole thing,” I replied.

“How much will it cost?” she countered.

“Maybe six of seven hundred lei.”

“Too much. You could save the money and get the brothers from church to help you dig the foundation by hand. My dad and brother dug two of them before.”

I was pleased to see that my lectures about saving money had not been wasted.

Why not. The weather forecast was excellent. By the end of the day I had called around to the church fellows and we agreed to dig. Friday I went to town and bought a shovel and ten kilos of chicken.

Saturday morning I turned the first dirt at 8:15 and by 1:00 we had the entire foundation dug along, with 30 meters of water line.

We ate barbequed chicken for lunch and finished off the day with volleyball and an evening campfire. I was pleased as can be.

It had been a perfect day. I love interacting with community and students outside of school hours. Food, fun, and foundation digging makes a full and fulfilling Saturday.

That evening my twelfth grader stopped me.

“What’s the next step?” she asked.

Never Give Up

A school teacher lives in a glass house. From the grandpas asking “What did you learn in school today?” to the songs the sixth graders sing in the shower, all things done at school find their way into every cranny of a community.

I was first introduced to Bambelela about five years ago. The song changed my life, and on one occasion, I believe, actually saved it.

I learned the song under this talented director.

I’ve taught it now to the third school. And I find that with the song, Bambelela becomes kind of a code word in the classroom.

“I don’t see how I will ever learn this Spanish.”


“You mean we have to pound in one hundred nails for this string art?”


I hope the point is being made clear. Never give up. Never, never, never give up. Bambelela.

Sometimes “Bambelela” even reaches beyond the school.

A month ago the school got to share the song at one of our Sunday evening church services.

And I was very blessed when a few weeks later a friend shared a video of his almost-three-year-old.

Never Give Up!

Blackboard Deconstructed

Blackboards tell stories. This one tells about our science class. The lesson was about the fossil record. I began with talking about the geological column. Scientists have discovered that sometimes as they dig deeper into the earth’s crust they find simpler life forms. This leads them to believe that simpler life forms existed before complex ones; and this proves the theory of evolution. They have then standardized the geological column and use it to date fossil findings. However many times they find the order of life in the column mixed. In fact, scientists have found places where the column is perfectly inverted.

So evolution doesn’t make so much sense after all.

This shows how scientists suppose the geological column formed. Deluge and dust covered the primitive life forms as more advance forms evolved.

At this point in the lesson we moved to talking about fossils of dinosaurs. The seal-like object is a dinosaur. The item above it is a rooster head.

I was trying to point out the difficulty of arranging pictures and models from skeletons. This dinosaur has a horn. And I want to suggest that for all we can know it may have had a long membrane of skin running down its neck like a mane. The skin may have been the texture of a rooster’s comb and would have decayed quickly, leaving no evidence of its existence. Or maybe the “comb” got frostbite and fell away in the ice age.

We really don’t know. I continued my attempt to prove my point with a picture of a pig. If all we found was the skeleton of a pig we would have little idea as to its real shape. The odd little squiggles in the top picture are the couple bones a scientist may find. From these alone he is tasked with constructing a whole hog. In fact I have caught male pink salmon who had huge humps on their necks. These humps would be hard to know about if a scientists had only a fish skeleton.

Geological columns prove little. Dinosaurs are great, but we may be way off as to what they really looked like. Creation is the best. Class is dismissed.

Transposition Tool

I wonder how the earliest men learned to invent tools. Necessity is the mother of invention. But what made it necessary for them to invent? Or more directly, how did they know it was necessary to invent?

And what exactly is invention? Is invention by definition creation ex nihilo? Or is it simply an orderly assembly of available resources?

In my teaching I rarely invent. In fact, here’s a full disclosure – I’m not sure how I would know to create the things I am missing when I’m not even aware of what I am missing.

Instead I beg, borrow, or steal. I copy all the hard work of wiser men. I not an inventor; I’m the generation before him. I’m the hunter-gatherer.

Last week my hunting-gathering came back empty. So I turned to creation. But not creation out of nothing (as this post is created).

But wait, is this post truly ex nihilo if there was a specific something from which it grew?

This much I do know. I was trying to teach music transposition.

The lesson objective was to teach that a major scale is made up so many tones and semitones in a specific order; and that when major scales are written in any key other than C, flats and sharps are needed to make the semitones of the staff align with the semitones of the major scale.

I remembered a wonderful sliding scale printed in the back of Rod and Staff music curriculum I once taught. The scale could be shifted up and down to place Do on any pitch, and my students could easily recognize which pitches needed accidentals.

I needed thirteen of them. Prints, not accidentals.

So before music class, I slipped off to the office and googled sliding scale, sliding scale modulator, tool to teach transposition, tool to align scale with staff, tool to teach key signature, and may other variations.

I found zero.

Nothing was left me but to create my own. I passed out clean sheets of paper in music class and we did some measuring and cutting. Try it with your own students.

Take a clean sheet of paper. Turn it to portrait mode. Start at the center of the bottom edge and measure up one inch. Make a horizontal line about an inch long and label it with Do on the right side and C on the left. Mark off another inch for Re/D and a third inch for Mi/E. Make a fourth mark only half an inch higher for Fa/F. Continue marking off a whole inch for a tone and a half-inch for a semitone until you get to the top of the paper. Label the marks with the Major Diatonic scale on the right and the pitches of the staff on the left.

Cut the paper up the center. If everything is precise you can place the Do on whichever pitch you like and see at a glance which lines or spaces need accidentals to make them align with the major scale.

Or follow this link for a printable pdf.

Happy transposing.

Perhaps you have a sure-fire and easier method of teaching the same thing. Perhaps you are holding a missing piece I don’t even know I should be hunting for. Feel free to suggest that or any other comments below.