At a teaching center I visited recently this quote was posted on a bulletin board: “A teacher’s constant task is to take a roomful of live wires and see to it that they’re grounded.” The quote was attributed to E.C. McKenzie.
I was thinking how much of the time we are focused on those students who are anything but live wires—the ones who sit passively waiting for education to be done unto them. They so challenge our pedagogical skills. But we shouldn’t forget the live wires—the students who are motivated, enthusiastic, and actually interested in learning. Like real live wires they often twist, turn, and spark energy as they look for a place to ground. Because their energy is not focused, it accomplishes little and may endanger others.
The quote suggests teachers need to get these live wires grounded. I think the sense is that energetic learners need to be focused—plugged into ideas, information, and resources that will harness and use their energy to power learning. If there’s energy available for learning, I don’t think a teacher maximizes its potential by trying to force a student to connect with content in tightly prescribed ways. Rather, the idea is to position several “grounds” in the vicinity and let the live wire go where it will.
I would say that the point of the quote is missed completely if a teacher imagines that it’s about classroom management—taking students with energy, those who may talk too much and be interested in ideas only peripherally related to the topic at hand and making sure they stay in their seats and on task. Rather, it’s about a teacher letting them connect to content, maybe even in some creative and unconventional ways, so that their learning can light the way for others in the class. Grounding a live wire harnesses its energy for productive uses.