Lessons from Mommy Bird

For the past fourteen years, I have been teaching students at transitional points in their education.  Either I have been getting them ready for high school, or transitioning them into high school.  It is a very funny age because the students are wanting their independence, but also wanting to cling to you for answers, reassurance, and support…much like you are Google with encouragement and the ability to quickly check their work.

Which leads to a number of questions that I don’t answer:

Can you look at this essay and tell me what grade I will make?  Is this okay?  Is this what you want? Is this right?  Is this the answer?  Can you read this over and tell me all of the stuff I need to fix?  Is this good?  I need to make an A on this paper.  Is this an A paper?” 

I don’t answer these questions because I am mean, although my students will tell me that I am; I don’t answer them because these questions do not make the students independent thinkers.  In fact, these questions don’t really require them to do much thinking at all.  They just want me to serve as their “Google it” feature so that they get immediate feedback and can be done.  It becomes nothing more than something to check off their list.

I want them to think it through, reason it out, and take their answers to their logical end.  And to answer their knee-jerk need reassurance that I am right although I have no idea how I arrived at that answer questions simply invalidates the need to think.  That has led to my talk with my students in the last few weeks:

“This Mommy Bird is shoving you out of the nest.  It is not that Mommy Bird does not love you, but it is time for you to do this on your own and fly.  There is no reason that you cannot do this.  If you are in real trouble – like you are on fire or being eaten by a bear – then Mommy Bird will come rescue you.  But your not being able to put things from the novel in your own words after three seconds of thought is not real trouble, and I am not coming to rescue you.  Now get out of my nest and fly.”

The students thought that was a good analogy, and it lasted about three minutes.  Then, they were back.

“But I can’t…”

Yes, you can.  Now go try.

“You have to help me…”

I am.  I am making you think.  You will thank me later.

“Help!  Mommy Bird!”

Fire?  Bear?  If the answer to those is no, you don’t need me.

“You are being mean.”

Nope.  Now get out of my nest.  I’m redecorating your room.


And despite all of the protests to the contrary, my little flock of seemingly helpless birds will come to class the next day with beautifully reasoned out arguments for their beliefs, which they have to rush into my room as soon as the first bell rings to share with me.  They are flying.  It is not perfect flight, but they do figure out that they are more capable than what they thought they were.  They also figure out that there is sometimes not a right or wrong answer, for the world is not always objective questions, but ones that must be answered from inside them.

Sometimes the best thing a Mommy Bird can do is shove the baby birds out of the nest and let them figure some things out for themselves.  I know that I have taught them to the best of my abilities, and they simply need to use what they have been taught so that they can fly.  It is a natural transition.

And it makes this Mommy Bird very proud.

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