Teach from the inside out, not the outside in

This article submitted by Stephanie Everson on 9/2/97.

Many years ago, a mother in Kentucky, the wife of a coal miner, received a call from her son's school teacher. The teacher informed the woman that due to her son's inability to pay attention and do well in school, the boy was most certainly retarded. The boy watched as his mother cried, believing her son would never amount to anything in his life-but the boy did.

He grew up. He went to college. He studied and earned a PhD. Last Tuesday he visited the Paynesville Area High School to speak to Paynesville school teachers and staff, because as an educator who works with disadvantaged kids, even gang members, and has written books on the subject, he had some firsthand insight to share.

"Who I am is not necessarily who I'll become," Dr. Gary Phillips, who now lives in the Seattle area, said. As the son of a coal miner, he was expected to take the same path, but he chose to become a teacher and help those who are like he once was.

More kids today are coming to school broken. Many come from broken or abusive families; but Dr. Phillips said he feels frustrated when he hears a teacher say, no wonder the child won't learn, look at his parents.

Phillips said out of 97 different methods of teaching, most teachers only use two of them, and then blame the student when he or she does poorly.

"Children are on a journey," said Phillips. "Look for improvement, not perfection." Phillips stated that part of a teacher's job in today's society is to heal, and to heal, teachers must avoid linear logic.

Linear logic, the most common way in which teachers have taught through many generations of students, is teaching through rewards and punishments. Unfortunately, many students don't respond to that. No matter how bad the punishment, or how good the reward, these students will sit at their desk and daydream through the entire class time while other students raise their hands and answer all the questions.

Phillips asked the educators to fold their hands. He then told them to notice which thumb they had placed under the other. Those who placed their right thumb under the left will not respond to linear logic, or rewards and punishment; those with the left thumb underneath, will.

Phillips told the teachers they should keep one thing in mind, "what have you learned today that is worth remembering for a lifetime?" Teachers must learn to teach from the inside out, not the outside in. When students become troublesome or apathetic, learn to reframe their anger, and realize that beneath anger, is pain or fear.

Phillips said teachers have the power to create phobias or passions. The way in which a teacher treats a student will decide if that student succeeds or fails, not only in that one subject, but sometimes, throughout their entire life. If a teacher emphasizes a student's deficiency, the student will continue to model it.

Phillips mentioned a story that underscores the most important challenge for teachers today. On the last day of school, a student went to his teacher and said, I may not remember anything you taught me this year, but I will always remember the way you made me feel.

Return to Archives