Life-Changing Instruction Takes Place In The Class

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Over the last several weeks I have been expanding on the vision statement for Payson High School: All students, regardless of their circumstances, will receive the finest content, instruction and community as a school. As well, everyone will be committed to continuous improvement.

Last time I spoke of content. This brings us to what I consider the keystone: Instruction. Let’s illustrate some elements of outstanding instruction into a real example.

Garrett was a skinny, goofy freshman the day he walked into Mr. Davis’ woodshop. Garrett didn’t really give a rip about woods but, along with P.E. and art, it made up most of Garrett’s schedule. 

Those were classes where he could “skate,” having announced to the guidance counselor that he didn’t care what he took in ninth grade, as long as it was the easiest way to get through high school.   

It was soon obvious to Garrett that Mr. Davis knew a lot more than just woods. He seemed to know everyone in class by the end of the first week. 

He seemed to know what they liked to do after school, where they liked to hang out and, in many instances, the specifics like what their parents did for work. The class itself was hard, much harder than Garrett expected.   

Mr. Davis kept bringing in problems and examples from other classes Garrett hated — like algebra. And then there were the reports and essays (on woodworking?). Garrett thought, “That kind of stuff should be in English class.”

As the year went on, Garrett’s projects progressed from a chessboard to a stool to a chest of drawers complete with dovetail joints and, eventually, to a beautiful mountain dulcimer. Mr. Davis always took special note of Garrett’s work, often holding it up as exemplary. 

One day Mr. Davis said to him, “Garrett, your dexterity and detail work is incredible!  With hands like that, you should think about being a surgeon!”

“What does it take to be surgeon?” asked Garrett. 

“Oh, some biology, some physics, a little math, a mind to put things together and great hands like yours!”

“A surgeon,” thought Garrett, “He thinks I could be a surgeon.”

By the end of Garrett’s freshman year, Mr. Davis had helped him in algebra using woodworking examples. He had introduced him to the biology teacher, Mr. Gurney, so Garret could work over the summer rebuilding lab stations. 

That summer, Mr. Gurney and Garrett hit it off and before he knew it, he was also accompanying Mr. Gurney on riparian collecting expeditions. By end of his senior year, Garrett had taken every woods and construction class available. 

As well, by Mr. Davis’ and Mr. Gurney’s advice, he had taken every science class, graduated with honors and was accepted to the state university. 

Four years later, he graduated magna cum laude in biology. During those years, he had worked part-time in the university carpentry shop to help with his tuition and living expenses. Four years after that, Garrett graduated from medical school and began an internship/residency program in — surgery. 

As we think through Garrett’s story, many instructional components become apparent.   First of all, Garrett didn’t show up with any real plans for his future other than skating through. 

Secondly, his woods teacher Mr. Davis was adept at getting his know his students and figuring out how to make his class seem relevant to individuals — in this case, Garrett. Additionally, Mr. Davis was able to connect his class with other academic areas. 

In fact, the class that Garrett initially perceived as a “blow off” class was academically very challenging. Next, Mr. Davis reinforced Garrett’s strengths and successes and used those to plant a seed — a vision, if you will, for Garrett’s future. 

He then guided Garrett into that future by connecting him with the biology teacher, Mr. Gurney, while also keeping him interested in woods and carpentry classes. Mr. Davis kept the “connection” for the rest of Garrett’s high school career (and most likely beyond).

It is plain to see, instruction taking place in Mr. Davis’ and Mr. Gurney’s classes went way beyond a mere purveyance of knowledge. 

It took hold of Garrett, pointed him in a direction and literally changed his life. At the risk of being accused of speaking “educationese,” in my next column I’d like to put some labels on these instructional components. 

In the meantime, I’ll bet the name of an outstanding teacher you had came to mind while reading Garrett’s story. Write them a note. I guarantee they’ll appreciate it.

Roy Sandoval is the Payson High School principal.

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