One evening after a musical presentation near the end of a recent school year, I was chatting with parents of my young students. In conversation with one mom who works in a very impressive, high power field, she mentioned how happy she was that her extremely bright son was integrated with the rest of the class, instead of segregated as he had been the year before. Not understanding exactly what she meant, I was slightly confused when she stated, “You seem to let them be who they are.”

With her and her husband looking on, I burst out laughing. “Who else would I expect them to be? The world only needs one of me.” However, I suspected I knew what they meant. In a time when data is more important than individuality, creativity or innovation, there is an expectation that students produce the same final product. In fact, I am supposed to provide a model for them to pattern after. However, my developmental-social cognitive philosophy prevents me from rigidly adhering to such a strictly behaviorist approach to learning and more than once accepted an alternate assignment from this parent’s intelligent young son.

I am not so arrogant to think my students cannot come up with a more interesting story or captivating idea than I can. In reality, one of the things I love about teaching is that I get to read ideas from many different people who haven’t yet learned to believe that their ideas will never work. Their imagination is not yet jaded and the confidence in doing the impossible is not yet pricked.

So yes, I try to let them be who they are and they in turn, let me be who I am—and that is a pretty fabulous arrangement.