The Role of the Teacher

  • Give Each Child
  • Teachers & Tutors
Steve Wilkins, Head of School Blog

Gec Washman - Carroll’s mythological guru whose name is a loose acronym for “give each child what she or he most needs” - inspires our thinking about how to educate children. In this edition, Gec offers the parable of the role of the teacher. 


The role of the teacher is not what we generally experienced as children; the role of the teacher is not to be the Hogwart’s “sorting hat” that decides who can and who cannot achieve at high levels (see Dr. Jeffrey Howard’s life work). The job of the teacher is to take every child as far as she or he can go, as slowly as she or he needs. The responsibility of the teacher is to figure out how to take each child to the mountain top of his or her interests and passions.

Many people view themselves as knowledgeable about education. After all, almost all of us went to school. That fact informs us but it also distorts our perspectives on the teaching profession. Gec Washman’s name itself reveals a substantially different view on the role of the teacher: give each child what she or he most needs. Here is Gec’s parable to reveal the difference:

Not too long ago a precocious young child, Sammy, was in intense pursuit to recover a model boat that had crashed on the opposite shore. In fact, it was the fourth time that the simple log vessel had sailed swiftly across the pond only to crunch to a stop in about the same location on the opposite shore at the public park. An observant groundskeeper was impressed that the child had constructed the boat out of logs for the hull, twigs for the mast, and leaves for the sail. The groundskeeper praised Sammy for creativity, effort, and persistence. Sammy felt good about that… for a short while.

Yet Sammy was frustrated. Why did the boat keep heading in the same direction? Why did it meet the same sad fate on every voyage? Why did the groundskeeper think that these voyages amounted to success? To be sure, Sammy had loftier dreams for the ships. Who could help take these model boats to places where they just didn’t seem to be able to go?

Later that same day, Sammy encountered another child who was also playing with little boats that could cross the pond. Sammy’s new friend also shared the same experience that these vessels could sail OK across the pond but always went in the same direction and crashed in the same location. Together, they decided to figure out how to get these boats to take a different route. They asked anyone who passed by to help them with the challenge. Person after person told the children they were doing wonderfully, that the little boats were terrific, that they were so smart, and that there is only so much that they could expect. In fact, to many of them, it was almost a miracle that these simple little boats could sail across the pond all by themselves.

Finally, as dusk was settling in on the park, they met a wanderer who took a genuine interest in these little boats and told the children that there had to be a solution to their challenge. The stranger quoted Richard Bach by saying “there is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.” We’ll figure this out. We can get these boats to sail to all sorts of other destinations. A little work on sail shape, a new design for a keel and rudder, or maybe a slightly different hull shape… we’ll figure out what this boat most needs.

  • Give Each Child
  • Teachers & Tutors

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