Teaching is like coal-mining: you're laboriously digging attention out of the stony faces in front of you and forging the fuel of the future.
Each and every student who appears in a classroom contains within them rich seams of talent, skill, ability and passion for life, like deep veins of coal.
As with coal-mining, these wonderful resources are not always evident on the surface. It takes a teacher’s skill to detect them, to dig for them and to extract them. Often they are so deeply buried that a teacher must simply trust that they are there and persist long enough for them to manifest themselves in some way. Experience suggests, though, that they are always to be found, given enough persistence and sharpness of wit on the part of the teacher. That persistence can be very much like coal-mining by hand: taking a spade and hacking away at the blank faces in front of you, moment by moment, lesson by lesson, term by term, until one day you strike lucky and find that vein of coal in that particular individual.
Once these are tapped into, a student is transformed from a pretty solid recipient of information, some of which is absorbed but much of which bounces off, into an active participant in a subject. In effect, the 'coal' you have found begins to burn wth life and interest and activity. Someone who previously drifted off or misbehaved in your lessons becomes a person who asks for more, who reaches for the advanced material, who creates things within the subject that are fresh, individual and exciting.
It’s easy to give up when you look at the surface landscape that a student presents you with day after day. There are clues, though: what does this particular person talk about, find interesting, laugh at? Keep in mind that they themselves are more often that not totally unaware of the “coal” within them. You might assume that your own quest to find these inner riches would be met with cooperation and assistance on the student’s behalf, but the student, in ignorance of his or her own secret wealth, is just as likely to reject and spurn your interest as to help you find it. Only when you do actually hit the seam and see the person’s face light up in front of you can you in any way expect the individual to cooperate with you. At that point, though, it will be more than cooperation -it will be eagerness and enthusiasm to learn more.
Some people think of education as the latter part of this sequence, the bit where the teacher and student work together joyfully on the creative and enthralling parts of a subject. In fact, the bulk of education is like the bulk of coal-mining -patiently prospecting and then laboriously digging deep, persisting day by day, and then finally reaping the rewards of discovery.