Out of ‘nothing’ teachers are experts at seeing ‘something’

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Kimberly Shearer
Kimberly Shearer

Something from nothing.

It’s a phrase that comes up in my Mythology class whenever my students and I examine the creation myths of the ancient world. Many civilizations began their creation stories in primordial darkness, and from that nothingness, the universe emerged. The word “myth” comes from the Greek word “mythos,” or story, and as teachers, you and I certainly know a thing or two about storytelling. We also have quite a bit of experience in the “something from nothing” department. Good instruction requires careful planning, but all too often we find ourselves in situations where we must face unexpected challenges. Our ability to improvise in those difficult times – to come up with “something” – is what defines us as educators. 

Funding for education is currently at the forefront of many political discussions, and budgeting issues are just one example of how teachers excel at creating something from nothing. When textbook funds are frozen, and there are not as many books as there are students, we get creative with the time and resources we do have. When copy machines must be outfitted with codes in order to monitor the number (and costs) of copies teachers make, we find new ways to share information with our students. And when students come to us, unable to afford a binder for our class, or lunch for the day, we open our wallets and make use of our own funds.  

Our instruction also illustrates our gift for creating something from nothing. We’ve all experienced those days when a guest speaker suddenly bailed, or a scheduled assembly was cancelled. We’ve all centered a lesson on technology, only to have the school server crash or the electricity go out. And we’ve all tried a lesson for the first time, only to discover our planned activity took much less time than we initially thought it would. In all of these cases, we were left with 30 (or more) students staring at us intently, waiting for what came next. But we were able to improvise, and use our creativity, to create a worthwhile lesson on the spot. 

And there are other areas where we create something from nothing: the times we are able to generate interest in even the most reluctant of learners, the times we foster self-confidence in those students riddled with self-doubt, and the times we develop skill in our students where there previously was none. The phrase, “something from nothing” describes more than just ancient creation stories – it also explains the work educators face each day. Our students are up against a lot, and so are we, but we improvise, and we create. We stare in the face of “nothing,” and we see “something.” We see potential. We see opportunity.

Tomorrow, my students and I will conclude our study of creation myths, and we’ll move on to myths about the birth of civilization. These myths describe how man advanced – with fire, with tools, with knowledge. We’ll begin with an image of Prometheus: stealing fire for humans, knowingly putting himself in harm’s way, but desperate to see mankind succeed. And should my laptop battery die, or my projector bulb burn out, I won’t worry – I’ll come up with something.  

Kimberly Shearer, an English teacher at Boone County High School, was named the 2012 Teacher of the Year on Oct. 18, 2011. During her year-long reign, Shearer is writing a monthly column for Kentucky Teacher that chronicles her experiences as a classroom teacher and as Kentucky Teacher of the Year. The column runs the second Thursday of each month.

 

 

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