An excellent teacher possesses the ability to design a lesson plan that includes appropriate learning activities and to maintain a certain momentum in the classroom. According to Jon Saphier & Robert Gower, another trait of a skillful teacher is the ability to handle intrusions upon these well-laid plans with flexibility. (from The Skillful Teacher: Building Your Teaching Skills) Most skillful teachers would agree that often these intrusions are actually opportunities to jump off the treadmill– to leave aside objectives and benchmarks, to address the most pressing concerns of their students– to share a life lesson that may not otherwise be covered by the curriculum. I like to call these intrusions “teachable moments.”
Lately, I have enjoyed more than my fair share of teachable moments while watching Glee with my daughter. A few weeks ago, the writers attempted to tackle the topic of teenage drinking in both the story line and the music, but left me– and I suspect many other parents– in the position of discussing my own opinions about alcohol consumption with my child long after the credits and final commercial aired. The following week’s episode centered on teenage sexuality. I spent the better part of the evening unable to enjoy the music as I composed my opening remarks for our follow-up discussion. Fortunately, I was not so lost in my own script-writing reverie that I missed the true teachable moment two-thirds of the way into the episode, when a heterosexual father had “the talk” with his gay son. The dad’s lines were written with such artistry and delivered with such sensitivity that my own words vanished from my mind as I listened intently. Then they cut to commercial, and the pressure to seize a teachable moment soared.
“Ask her a question,” a voice inside my brain whispered.
“What did you think of Kurt’s dad?” I asked her from the other side of the couch.
“He was amazing,” she replied. “He’s the parent everyone wishes they had.”
No kidding. It was that good. I wondered whether I could download a transcript and save it for future use with my son.
Last week, the ultimate teachable moment was delivered by Glee. I had certainly been anticipating the gay character’s first kiss, as the storyline has been leading toward it for more than a season. I fully expected that it would be handled realistically and sensitively, and it was, perhaps even more so than many of the heterosexual kissing intrusions to the plot. I was completely unprepared, however, for my daughter’s response.
In the thirty seconds of tender dialogue following the kiss and leading toward a commercial break, my mind began racing toward the teachable moment. I knew just what I wanted to communicate to my child about love, exactly what values I wanted to impart about sexual orientation. I lowered the volume as they cut to commercial and turned my entire body sideways on the couch to make eye contact with my child. But before I could open my mouth to formulate a coherent phrase, she spoke. “That was so sweet,” she said. “Kurt waited a long time for his first kiss.”
“Yes, he did,” I replied, nodding.
And that was all that needed to be said. The skillful, teen-aged teacher had seized upon the teachable moment, sharing a life lesson with her mother that might have otherwise been overlooked: Parents impart their values to their children every day, in a thousand teachable moments, over the course of a lifetime. I learned that I had achieved my curricular objective without need of an intrusion. That was so sweet.