Today I walked over to one of the undergraduate teaching labs to drop off my comments on drafts for students who are learning, section by section, to write an IMRaD paper on the research they are doing on a polymerase.
The lab is in the basement, and one walks down an open staircase to get to it. As I descended, I looked over the railing at the students’ belongings — backpacks, water bottles, jackets, bike helmets — strewn on the benches outside the lab. Around and down I went, and on all sides of the stairwell outside the lab were these signs of school.
My heart felt full. I imagined this same bounty of backpacks and jackets outside other schoolrooms with students of other ages. Kindergarten cubbies, the hallway outside the Grace’s 5th grade class or Eli and Lydia’s high school homerooms, the undergraduate microbiology lab. What those backpacks mean is this: We are a community of learners, this is our gear, and we need this stuff to do what we do. And then I thought about how great it is to be a teacher, to have a responsibility to these students.
This feeling is inchoate; I cannot quite nail it down in words. The descent down the staircase, the view of backpack after backpack after backpack, and, finally, a glimpse through the windows into the lab of all the white-coated young people at the benches, working and talking, made me buoyant. School is more than a place; it’s an idea, one that students and teachers carve out of otherwise pressured and complex lives.
For a few minutes, I was so happy to be reminded by the backpacks of my good fortune — my luck! — to be working at this place and participating in an idea I believe may be the very best one we’ve got: we are human, and therefore we learn.