What I Learned From My Daughter’s Teacher

I knew this year was going to be different for my daughter. Little did I realize that her classroom setting would impact me profoundly. 

“Dad, I got a gift from my new teacher today?” was my 8 year old daughter’s excited opener after her first day of school. When I unrolled a note inside her bag of gifts, my instinct was that this year would be profound. It is one thing to set the stage and focus on the essentials.  It is quite another to set it with metaphors and daily visuals. Simply, well done by her teacher.

My daughter had more surprise in store. She added, “I do not have any homework for 2 weeks until my teacher meets with all the parents.”

That perplexed me. This teacher was being nice first with these kids. That was contrary to my own view shaped in a big part by this story.

Once upon a time, a new emperor appointed a prime minister and divided the work. The king said, “I will be Mr. Nice, why don’t you be the tough one.” The minister agreed. Soon, the king learned that people responded better to the minister. So, he called his minister again and told him about the decision to swap. The minister gladly agreed. And in short course the prime minister was emperor. The people found the nice king’s transformation unpalatable. So, they threw him out. When they came looking for a replacement, they liked the turn around of the prime minister.

“Sequence matters” was instilled in my long-term memory. What my daughter’s teacher subsequently shared, made me realize what matters is a different kind of sequence.  

After two weeks of no homework, I got a reboot of a different kind.

Two things I remember from my first day in my daughter’s class. 1) I surprised myself at how comfortably I perched myself in my daughter’s chair – in her class surrounded by other parents. 2) I saw storybooks proudly displayed in the class.

One parent dutifully asked, ”how come you did not send homework for last two weeks?” And as an afterthought added, “not that I am complaining.” There was a perceptible ice-breaking laughter in the room.

The teacher shared in an assured voice, “I believe that curriculum and related home works can wait. I wanted to soak in the children's learning styles, understand them individually. First 15 days, I wanted to frame the environment and set the tone to collectively thrive.”

I have heard this line of thought before - fostering a good ecosystem. What struck me as unusual were the implicit words - content can wait.

The “geeky” engineer in me found that intriguing. You give me a puzzle, I roll-up my sleeves, take the plunge and solve it with gusto. And learn through that experience. As I got older, I learned to understand and adapt to the environment.  In all that, content and environment worked in parallel.

What my daughter’s teacher did was something different. She pushed content to later stage. The implication - content is foremost a consequence. It can be accelerated later and time made up to meet academic goals. Wow, what a quiet confidence in the world of instant gratification. 

I marveled at her approach. Her quiet, assured voice made me unspool my own assumptions. Helped me connect a few dots. 

My Re-pivoting at work.

When I experience a new thought, I experiment to test it out. I started a consulting gig just after the classroom experience. I put the teacher’s practice to work -content can wait. Just that very thought, scary at first, led me to a new gold. Before, I would try hard to consciously understand learning styles of people while juggling content. Now, with content out of the way in the early days, I found the time to learn something subtler – modes of learning.

Some like to use Slack, some like Lync that aligns with Microsoft Outlook, some prefer old fashion email, some welcome an impromptu tap on the shoulder, some enjoy a phone conversation, some like to schedule meetings for a tête–à–tête. Some quickly respond to terse emails and some enjoy end of the day reads with context.

In the cluttered world of hyper-communication, this was an awesome outcome. I made up on the time spent deliberately soaking in the environment - many times over!

Content can wait: My Daughter’s experience

I recently asked my 8 year old daughter, “what do you remember from your first two weeks of school?” Pat came her reply, with a sparkle in her eyes – “our class discussions on Owen and Chrysanthemum’s life.” 

When I heard my daughter’s response, I seriously listened and internally chuckled. 

She talked about two story books - I remember catching a glimpse in her class, seated at her desk. Chrysanthemum was a girl bullied at school for her name. She found her voice to stand up and celebrate who she was.

I chuckled at the thought of buttons- embedded in her teacher’s roll and reinforced by the power of suggestion through stories. Recalled after 3 months.  

And today it dawned on me why great teachers choose to do what they are destined to do- bloom beautiful minds with gripping context. Content can wait.

Chrysanthemum stands effervescently beautiful. Every time I walk by them at the flower section of the grocery store, they remind me of the giddy delights I had a chance to experience – and share with you today.

Karthik Rajan.

I enjoy writing at the intersection of analytics and human relationships. Sometimes, like today, I get an opportunity to share about awesome teachers who foster greatness.

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