Here’s how every pro-lifer can be a more effective teacher

By Dave Andrusko

buildingabetterteacherEditor’s note. My family will be on vacation through the end of this week. I will be posting an occasional new story, but for the most part we will be re-posting columns that ran over the last year. Many will be strictly educational while some will about remind us of notable victories this legislative cycle.

As someone who taught a long time ago and who has two members of my family currently teaching in the public schools, I do my best to keep abreast of the latest waves in education reform.

Relevance to us? If you think about it, every pro-lifer—every pro-lifer—is a teacher. Each of does it in her or his way; some have been educating for decades, others are ‘student teachers’; and, naturally, some are better at it than others.

(In this post we are not talking about educating people who are already eager to absorb what we can offer. Rather it’s those whom we are working to bring over the side of life who may be very reluctant to listen.)

Given the incredible importance of our “subject matter”—the protection of vulnerable unborn babies which is inextricably intertwined with helping their mothers find “a better way”—we are always on the lookout for good pedagogical ideas.

Here’s one. This morning, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the front cover of Sunday’s Parade magazine which bannered the article, “How to Build a Better Teacher,” by Elizabeth Green. [The article was adapted from the author’s forthcoming book, “Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (And How to Teach It to Everyone).”]

For our purposes, what’s significant were the “five examples, taken from the findings of the best education researchers, of what great teachers do differently.” Let me mention three which I will adapt to educating about the beauty and the sanctity of human life. [If you care to, you can read the full article.]

#1. “They can right a wrong.” When a student gives an incorrect answer, rather than jump to say, “wrong,” the “best teachers put themselves in their students’ shoes—and grapple with how they arrived at the wrong answer in order to set them right.” When we are trying to win someone over, we are trying to nudge their hearts and their minds in a life-affirming direction, not score debating points. Gently, start from where they are at and help them see where and why they went wrong.

#2. “They encourage deeper thinking.” Comparing Japanese and American teachers in their classrooms, Green concluded there is a “nuanced difference in how the ­questions were framed” which had a huge influence in the participation rate among the students. Asking “how or why” questions (as opposed to merely asking “what”) meant many more Japanese students “helped initiate the ­solution to a problem.” The former approach is obviously more open-ended, which, we can hope, keeps the discussion with our potential recruit going rather than ending with one or two back-and-forths. And great teachers also

#3. “They show more than they tell.” This is described as “helping students learn to complete tasks that ­require a lot of detailed thinking.” (Stanford education professor Pam Grossman calls this “modeling.”) In our realm, if we are asking someone to grasp what may seem to them the rough equivalent of learning a foreign language (because they have not been exposed to formal or informal pro-life tutoring), it’s often not enough to tell them to consider what we said again or read our piece of pro-life literature once more.

To get them from here to there we need to be more specific, showing “the invisible mental steps that go into” the kind of thinking that allows us to grasp more complicated and nuanced concepts. (Green writes that “Grossman calls this ‘making your thinking visible.’”) On our part this requires patience and also a self-reminder that once upon a time we didn’t know what we know so well now. What is self-evident (to us) is not to them. We need to walk them through the steps.

One other very reassuring observation from Green’s excerpt which is implicit. She argues that research demonstrates conclusively that (contrary to Hollywood) “what makes for great and nimble teachers” is not that they are born that way.

These kinds of exceptional educators come in all stripes—extroverts and introverts; humorous and serious; “flexible as rubber,” others far less so.

By making the effort, anyone of us can be, in our own way, a more effective ambassador for Life.