Teaching with the iceberg in mind

B

y now, with any kind of luck, most of the snow is off the ground, the days are getting longer, the sun is becoming stronger with each passing minute, and as the warmth of the new year awakens us, winter is becoming more and more of a memory. Not this year. Not in Maine. I was thinking about this today in school and during my last block of teaching, while I was grumbling about the ice and snow still covering the streets, my sophomore English students reminded me about one of the essential principles of my classroom – sometimes less is more.

Each desk in the room is home to a student with an engaging personality – that’s teacher talk for lots of energy. They’re fun, sometimes loud, but always inquisitive. I like them. Today they wanted to talk about Russia, the Ukraine, and why they were in the headlines. They looked at me and said, “Can you explain it?”

For the next 20 minutes we had one of the best conversations of the year. We talked about the end of World War II, Stalin, the emergence of the U.S.S.R. as a superpower and then the fall of communism, and each time I thought I might give them just a little more, I remembered the original question, “how did we get here?” I also remembered something a teacher told me, “if it doesn’t help push the story forward, don’t include it.”

I think of this as teaching to the iceberg principle. While there may be many depths to the story, and so much more that is left unsaid or unused, sometimes it is better and you’re more effective as a teacher if that information is kept out of the direct explanation. All of the information, knowledge and understanding should only be used as a way to form a better answer, a richer and more focused story – one that will engage and educate.

Portsmouth-Kittery640

Anyway, after school and a little grading, I had to drive to Portsmouth to pick up some medals for a local charity race and walk that will take place on Sunday, March 16. I drove through the older section of town near the water and for some reason I stopped for just a minute to look across the river toward Kittery and the Navy Yard. I thought about the ships and submarines that have been built there, the men and women who pass through those gates each day, and the sailors who trust them with their lives. I looked toward the old Marine Prison and thought about the history of that island and building. More depth, more stories. They’ll have to wait. There’s always tomorrow’s question.

 

 

David Arenstam

About David Arenstam

Originally from away, but here to stay - Maine is my home and I love writing stories about the people and places from my end of the state. As a teacher and writer who’s seen more than half a century of life, I’m astonished by the people I now call neighbors and friends.