I'm a "lifer" - a college teacher who has spent most of his life inside the classroom trying to share what I know and love - and to communicate it well. While I have focused my efforts on college students, I'm well aware that, here on the Peninsula, we have compelling issues concerning the funding of our K-12 schools. And I'm here to urge you to support the May bond proposal that can improve our schools' infrastructure and enhance the learning environment.

Imagine for a moment what might happen if we all agreed to provide the necessary financial and other support to improve education on the Peninsula. Imagine the possibility of finding, attracting, and keeping the best teachers.

Then consider my profile of a "great teacher" - from K-12 - interacting with our students, informing and inspiring them, and leaving indelible impressions on them.

Great teachers regard teaching as a calling. They've wanted it all their lives. Many are extraordinary. They're the ones who display great energy, commitment and passion to do well. They're the ones who encourage their students to recognize what they have to give, as well as get, in school.

They're the ones who help their students learn how to tolerate ambiguity, consider possibilities, and ask unanswerable questions. They're the ones who want students to think, explore, and weigh ideas.

They're the ones who recognize that students who desperately seek easy answers and certainty should heed John Henry Newman's advice: "Real knowledge must come from those in whom it lives."

Great teachers recognize that there's a culture alive and throbbing in our schools - a culture that takes on the character, color and vitality of the students and teachers inside. They know that students need to be praised for their individual expression - for the ways they are different from others - and not always praised for the ways they are like others.

Great teachers possess knowledge and desire to share it, sometimes disturbing their students' inertia and often sensing their diversity of expression and colorfulness of that diversity. Their schools have a clear identity and a sense of mission and the teacher senses the special character, sturdiness, and unique qualities of the school.

Great teachers set high goals and standards and hold themselves and their students accountable, emphasizing discipline against a backdrop of love and respect. Above all, great teachers value the "playfulness of learning."

Sadly, a lot of learning has lost its element of play because teachers and students, feeling local institutional pressures, regard learning as concrete, literal, and exacting. Consequently, many well-intentioned teachers focus on ends or conclusions rather than turning ideas on their sides and laughing about them.

Yet some of the best teachers I've known are humorous people who see the playfulness of language and who are quick and intuitive. They know that language is at its best when it's deadly serious and very playful at the same time.

They're aware that learning should be disciplined and that students should discover ways to ask questions, think about evidence, and find the truths that are "out there." But they're also aware that great teachers are at their best when they have something they feel passionate about and can talk seriously, but at the same time, find a way of presenting the play in it.

But to find that sense of play, great teachers have to be very confident - confident of building connections with their students. And if they're worried about discipline or covering a prescribed curriculum in a particular period of time - in a room overcrowded with students sharing textbooks and vying for attention - they often lose that sense of joy and possibility - their sense of play.

That sense of play isn't frivolous or trivial. Play has become increasingly important in these turbulent times. What's so special about supporting our schools to encourage development of a greater sense of play is that such an attitude links our students and teachers - and it links them through enjoyment.

When students and teachers laugh together, they cease momentarily to be young and old, master or pupil, jailer or prisoner. They become a single group enjoying the group's existence.

If a teacher can build rapport through laughter and enjoyment - in a nourishing, financially stable educational environment - his or her students may feel pleasure and enjoy shared experiences.

Please band together to support our schools - and help create an environment in which the "playfulness of learning" can flourish.

Correspondent, teacher, and freelance writer Robert Brake can be reached at oobear@pacifier.com.

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