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First Person | 'Scorpion' represents varied roles of a teacher
First Person is a weekly forum for personal musings and reflections from readers.


Saturday October 3, 2015 5:00 AM

I am a fan of the CBS drama Scorpion.

The series and its characters lend themselves to a fruitful analysis.

Consider the members of Team Scorpion:

  • The gifted Sylvester, whose instantaneous mathematical calculations prove valuable every week.
  • Toby, the psychologist and profiler, "minoring" in physiology and medicine, who solves crises of both seen and unseen origins.
  • Happy, the mechanical wizard, who could replace a broken projector lens with a soda bottle or build a stealth fighter out of the remnants of a tricycle.
  • Walter O'Brien, the quasi-biographical brain of the team - whose 197 IQ is offset by his risk-taking behavior.
  • Paige, the heart beating within the polyglot crew, the touchstone between their abstract gifts and the street, who offers perspective and humanity when most needed.
  • Ralph, Paige's autistic son, who is recognized by the team for the genius within.
  • Cabe, the Homeland Security agent, accountable to Washington for the team's achievements and shortfalls, who walks the tightrope between smothering their collective creativity and instinctually giving free rein to allow ideas, data and emotions to meld - so that what is only imagined can become real.

If the varied characters and their abilities and limitations were laid side by side in a composite, a familiar profile would emerge: The exceptional individual would be a teacher.

Teachers are required to provide an empirical, accurate and honest "profile" of a student's progress. They navigate via two compasses - budgeting hours and minutes for preparation, assessment and tutoring; and capturing and fulfilling ineffable teachable moments.

Early in the school year, they make objective and subjective assessments of students, learning styles, skill sets and necessary differentiated instruction, taking into account health and background factors.

And sometimes they make instant judgments when a student becomes ill. CPR certification goes with the territory.

They rig fixes to setbacks, delivering material while modeling calm improvisation when electric power fails, fire drills are called, projector lamps burn out and other "Happy" incidents occur.

They provide Paige's empathy to a wider family while reserving perspective and devotion for their immediate families.

They encounter Ralph in most students, each of whom is sensitive, unsure and needing encouragement in identifying the special gifts to be nurtured and developed for the benefit of all.

Teachers and administrators walk the tightrope along with Cabe, relying on instinct and experience to set the stage for students to learn, discover and draw conclusions that are their own. In the way that Cabe is drawn out of his supervisory status into the role of a team member, teachers might more aptly be called "co-learners" or "guides."

As for Walter, the all-around problem solver possessed of limitations and sometimes unable to recognize them because of his dedication to the vision of what he wishes to have his team accomplish and how to get them there, his guiding tenet is that the absence of one member diminishes the group; the outcome suffers.

Teachers strive to exemplify to students a balance between reasonable expectations for all and a conviction that their potential has no limits.

A few have had to risk lives to keep their students safe in a crisis. Fewer yet have willingly paid supremely. Yet all teachers are trained in what to do for students when the unimaginable happens.

It is natural for an adult to ask, "What did you do in school today?" The response might head in any of many directions: academic, athletic, social.

What more might be gained by asking instead: What did you hear and observe? Who taught you this? How did you feel when you realized you learned this?

Such questions give more insight to parents and guardians about the people who teach their sons and daughters; the teachers' approach to education; and the methods they use in striving to help young people learn to solve problems, to think and express themselves on an advanced level, to work cooperatively and to prepare to assume the nation's future.

John O'Neil, 59, of Columbus has taught Latin for 32 years at St. Charles Preparatory School.