• JoAnne Saldanha

Question!! A Story of a Teacher

"Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, 'Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.' Don't be resigned to that. Break out!" - John Keating (Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society)

Remember Robin Williams in the film Dead Poet's Society?

I never fail to think about him in that role every Teachers Day.

I would have loved some of his inspiration as we took classes online this last year and a half...I'm sure he would have had some maverick methods to keep the children interested and engaged.

Robin Williams inspired us, showing us the possibilities with our students.


For me teaching children is all about making them think and question.

However it is tough. Tough to face up to those same children, annoying and tough to face the accusations that you are wrong, that your pronunciation is not right, that your story is different to the fully exaggerated version they have seen on TV.

It is their truth...question they must!

Yet every day I ask myself, do I leave space for that questioning?


My own children have had a few teachers who have really made them think.

Not blind obedience but rather they have valued their questions and rejoiced at their inputs. When things go so well, they have pushed them hard to assess things in different ways and have taken the time out to help them really look through their own behaviour.

To them, I am always grateful.


Question, question, question...the lies we see being churned out day by day....QUESTION!!

The injustice and intolerance that is so deeply embedded....question!!!


To all those teachers who encouraged me and mine to do that, I dedicate this story which I found in an old Readers Digest.

Best Teacher I Ever Had by David Owen

(Extracted from Reader's Digest (Asian Edition), April 1991, pp. 47-48)


Mr. Whitson taught sixth-grade science. On the first day of class, he gave us a lecture about a creature called the cattywampus, an ill-adapted nocturnal animal that was wiped out during the Ice Age. He passed around a skull as he talked. We all took notes and later had a quiz.


When he returned my paper, I was shocked. There was a big red X through each of my answers. I had failed. There had to be some mistake! I had written down exactly what Mr. Whitson said. Then I realized that everyone in the class had failed.


What had happened?


Very simple, Mr. Whitson explained. He had made up all the stuff about the cattywampus. There had never been any such animal. The information in our notes was, therefore, incorrect. Did we expect credit for incorrect answers?


Needless to say, we were outraged. What kind of test was this? And what kind of teacher?

We should have figured it out, Mr. Whitson said. After all, at the every moment he was passing around the cattywampus skull (in truth, a cat's), hadn't he been telling us that no trace of the animal remained? He had described its amazing night vision, the color of its fur and any number of other facts he couldn't have known. He had given the animal a ridiculous name, and we still hadn't been suspicious. The zeroes on our papers would be recorded in his grade book, he said. And they were.


Mr. Whitson said he hoped we would learn something from this experience. Teachers and textbooks are not infallable. In fact, no one is. He told us not to let our minds go to sleep, and to speak up if we ever thought he or the textbook was wrong.


Every class was an adventure with Mr. Whitson. I can still remember some science periods almost from beginning to end. On day he told us that his Volkswagon was a living organism. It took us two full days to put together a refutation he would accept. He didn't let us off the hook until we had proved not only that we knew what an organism was but also that we had the fortitude to stand up for the truth.


We carried our brand-new skepticism into all our classes. This caused problems for the other teachers, who weren't used to being challenged. Our history teacher would be lecturing about something, and then there would be clearings of the throat and someone would say "cattywampus.''


If I'm ever asked to propose a solution to the problems in our schools, it will be Mr. Whitson. I haven't made any great scientific discoveries, but Mr. Whitson's class gave me and my classmates something just as important: the courage to look people in the eye and tell them they are wrong. He also showed us that you can have fun doing it.


Not everyone sees the value in this. I once told an elementary school teacher about Mr. Whitson. The teacher was appalled. "He shouldn't have tricked you like that,'' he said. I looked that teacher right in the eye and told him that he was wrong.

"Just when you think you know something, you have to look at in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try."
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