Teacher – The Artisan and Archer

The teacher is like the archer on the front line of the fight against societal woes. The teacher is like the artisan that builds his own arrows to be sharp, sturdy and well guided on their flight toward the mark.

King Solomon wrote in the 127th Psalm that children are like arrows and that a happy man has a quiver full of them. He also wrote that they would face our enemies at the gate. This simile infers that adults recognize and acknowledge the difficulties of life and strive to prepare our children to meet them with wisdom and cunning, knowing that each generation has the capacity to make the world a better place and that they will continue a sort of engineered legacy for us all.

Our role in education is summarized in the Latin phrase: In loco parentis, which means ‘in place of the parent’. With teachers being such a large part of the daily lives of America’s youth, don’t we have a quiver full of arrows? Shouldn’t we be happy about the opportunities we have to shape the future? Let us explore the teacher as the Artisan who builds his own arrows and the Archer who determines their trajectories… their destinies.

The Arrowhead

In old western movies, when the cowboys or scouts would come across abandoned arrows, one of them would always name a tribe. They would look at the subtle design differences of the arrow to make this distinction. We know there are facts to support those scenes because there are displays of arrowheads and other artifacts in museums that archaeologists identify as belonging to certain tribes and time periods because of their distinct characteristics.

The same is true for schools and, especially, teachers. It is that certain expression of knowledge or use of phrase that instills a certain purpose in our students. That purpose may be for or against our intentions. Just as the certain differences is design caused arrows to have certain flight characteristics and point-of-impact strength, our students leave us with certain strengths and sometimes more weaknesses. These weaknesses come from the lack of craftsmanship and attention to detail.

The industrialized world we live in has evolved our minds to believe that all we have to do is create one die to make multiple copies of an ideal original. This works with the modern arrow and arrowhead as it is designed to penetrate game and targets. But, if we were to actually fight an intelligent enemy, the one weakness of such a design would be easily discovered and exploited and soon would have no effect. It is craftsmanship and unique design that makes a weapon hard to strategize against because no two projectiles will be the same; therefore, all of our students should be shaped according to their own strengths and weaknesses. It is in this way that teachers are Artisans who can see the sharp arrowhead that lies within the raw material and make precise cuts to ‘sharpen’ it with knowledge and ‘hone’ it with practice in preparation to make its mark on society.

The Arrow’s Shaft

The shaft of an arrow adds strength and durability to support the arrowhead. In antiquity these shafts were built from the straightest limbs and pieces of some parent plant that had sturdy and strong fiber characteristics.

The internal strength and durability of our future generations depends upon the character of those adults whose ‘roots’ fortify those branches and whose moral fiber strengthen the prodigy. Roots that feed too much of what the branches want will make them weak. Roots that deprive the branches of what they need will make them weak. The adults that guide the lives of youth are to be examples of strength and durability so that the armor of the enemy does not shatter the arrow. Our students must be able to face adversity with the internal fortitude that is exemplified by the adults they have observed. This adds weight and will to a purpose.

The Arrow’s Fletching

At the base of every arrow is its fletching. A fletch is a feather that works in accord with two or three others to cause the arrow to spin. This spinning keeps it on its course so that it is not influenced by prevailing winds. So, fletching is the unified effort to keep an arrow well guided.

Each student has more than one teacher who influences his or her life. It is important that each teacher act as a fletch that works in conjunction with other teachers to keep the arrow on its straight path. And, that path is determined by both the archer and the arrow. If the arrow is balanced it will fly true. The balance occurs when the teacher attends to the students best interest with true fidelity. Our students need to be guided, not only to a career, but to a lifelong purpose. A purpose that surpasses a monetary goal. A purpose to serve and to become craftsmen themselves.

The Target

Each generation exponentially exposes the attitude of the previous. If our attitude is selfless and geared toward the fortitude of our children, then our enemy will be vanquished. So, who is our enemy?

Our enemy is ignorance and despair. Each year we release a volley of our craft work toward that mark but there are too few that are finding the target and the enemy is gaining strength. So, make your arrows sharper, pull further back the string, and aim higher at release because it is the time and condition of our release that determines if our arrows hit their mark.

The last stanza of the poem On Children, by Kahlil Gibran:

You are the bows from which your children

as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might

that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.

A Heavy Burden

Sometimes we cannot lighten our load, but we can shift and rearrange it…

Teachers carry a heavy burden. Everyone in education carries a heavy burden. We are expected to carry the inabilities, needs, concerns, talents and futures of our pupils on our backs until they can stand on their own.

Too many teachers bear this burden completely and when they find opportunities to lighten it, many times they do not trust themselves or the method enough to try it, thus, trudging forward with the burden weighing down their days and wearing down their bodies.

This story may encourage readers to try new things – to shift the burden more toward their students, parents, fellow teachers and all of the other connections that exist to make the task of educating children less burdensome…

The summer after my first year of college was just as educational as my first year of classes. I spent those ten weeks working as a low-skilled laborer for construction company that specialized in concrete. I took part in many small jobs, some big jobs, but one in particular helps me to understand some of the difficulty I have in my career today as an educator.

The crew I was on was sent to our county seat to pour new sidewalks around the courthouse. A typical sidewalk job is easy – you just remove the first four or five inches of soil from the sidewalk path creating a furrow to pour the wet cement in, put frames alongside the edges of the furrow to keep the cement from running out, add some type of wire frame to hold the finished concrete together, have a cement truck back up to the site and let the pouring and finishing begin.

When we build momentum sometimes it's hard to make a needed changes to our load.

This job was a little different. The county judge did not want the cement trucks driving onto the courthouse yard and leaving tracks in the lawn. So, we were instructed to build a temporary sidewalk made from narrow 2×12’s that we happen to have with us. We were told to haul the wet cement in wheelbarrows from the truck to the sidewalk furrows. This trip was at least 25 yards or more.

Wet cement, with all other ingredients, weighs somewhere around 100 pounds per cubic foot. The wheelbarrows we were using had a seven cubic foot capacity. We were wheeling about 700 pounds of material 25 to 30 yards along a path that was twelve inches wide! We felt that was a bit too demanding, but we had no choice. We took to the task just as many teachers enter their classroom overwhelmed with the necessities of the day.

My first trip was a failure. I grabbed both handles of the wheelbarrow, lifted it up with my legs and back and began moving forward. My coworkers instructed me to move fast and build momentum saying that would make the trip easier. So after I raised the wheelbarrow I ran toward the end of the wooden sidewalk instead of carefully walking. Their method worked well for the first ten yards or so until I began to feel the right handle slipping from my grip. I did not want to stop and lose momentum so I quickly tried to re-grip the handle I was losing. The quick release of my grip caused a slight shift in the weight of the cement causing my wheelbarrow to veer to the right. With such a narrow path, it only took half a second for my wheel to go off the path and my entire load to spill out on the lawn.

After my reprimand from the crew boss and after I cleaned up my mess, I changed my approach a little. I put on a pair of gloves, got a deeper grip of my palms on the handles, shifted my hands further up the handles and took another trip. This time and every time after that, I was successful.

This story illustrates how teachers and other educational practitioners build such momentum within their work days. They carry a heavy load with all of the demands that comes with the job and once they figure out a process, good or bad, they are afraid to tweak it a little for the fear that all that they carry might ‘spill over’ just like my load of wet cement. So they burden themselves with teaching children in the way they are most comfortable and dealing with the heavy load of those who would seek to disrupt their momentum by being troublesome or disengaged. And when they feel themselves ‘slipping’, they are afraid to change anything because of the potential for failure.

The moral of the story is that change is necessary. You must ‘shift the load’ or become so over burdened that the load shifts you, meaning that all outcomes are negative for you and your students. For administrators, the same analogy can be made, only your pupils are the teachers that are burdened down with your momentum.

When we discover a new tool, method or device, we should try it. We may have a ‘spill’ but I learned that a spill can be cleaned up and that we are left with a new way of approaching a difficult task. New tools should center around ways that educators can ‘shift the load’ to other people. Not passing the duties on, but being a collaborator who can divide a task among peers; being a facilitator who can put the burden of learning on the learner; being a learner who is not afraid of using new technology to organize and deliver the content of the day; being a communicator who can make expectations clear to parents; and most of all, being a professional who can discern the most valuable tools and the most opportune times to use them.

In short, get a new grip!!