Peter Imes: Non-mechanical teaching


Peter Imes



Since my son was born a little more than six years ago, my wife and I have had countless angst-ridden discussions on what to do when he reached school age. Public, private, boarding, home -- we've weighed every schooling option. He started kindergarten last month, and, though we are thrilled with his school, the dialogue continues.


Despite all of the conversation about early release days, school funding and merit pay for teachers, a good education comes down to the teachers in the classroom and the administrators in the school office. Nothing else matters nearly as much.


I had some great teachers in Columbus public schools, but Dan Briggs was one of the best. He taught me mechanical drawing at Columbus High West immediately after the consolidation of Lee and Caldwell.



The class was a circus. Most of my classmates were disrespectful, rowdy and generally ambivalent about learning. I sensed most were there just to pick up a few extra credits. Almost immediately, though, Mr. Briggs identified a small group of us who were sincerely interested in learning about engineering.


Each day, Mr. Briggs would basically teach two classes in a single period. He would go over the lesson plan with the entire class and demonstrate the mechanical drawing technique of the day. He allowed us all to practice the technique a bit, and, when he felt my group had mastered it, pulled us aside and start the second class.


Dont get the wrong idea. He didn't divide the class into rigid tracks. Though there was a core group of us who always caught on quickly, the group fluctuated in size and character based on who grasped the day's lesson.


Mr. Briggs had us entering home design competitions sponsored by the local association of Realtors and the Rotary Club and guided us through engineering-related competitions as the sponsor of Technology Student Association.


He listened to our interests and fed those interests by teaching us contextually. Architectural drafting, aerodynamics and computer science were not on the syllabus, but we learned about them all.


In this day of "teaching to the test," it's hard to imagine a teacher being able to lead students on such tangents. I can still recite the quadratic equation and a good portion of the prologue to Canterbury Tales, but I've used neither since graduating high school. However, the ability to repair computers, use complex software and think critically are skills I depend on every day.


Obviously, Mr. Briggs was not the only teacher who put forth extra effort to truly teach his students. There were many others. What traits create teachers like them? How can we identify individuals with those traits and guide them to a life of non-mechanical teaching?


When considering home schooling, I wonder whether my wife and I are equipped with those skills.


With fantasies of my son being taught by a series of Mr. Briggs for the next 13 years, I know the reality is that many more heavy school decisions lay ahead.



Peter Imes is publisher of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected]


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