I’m biting Gary Abud’s hook. One of his gifts to the teaching profession this year is the 2014 Teacher Leadership Challenge. The schtick is: Get more teachers blogging, which to me reads “Augment the quantity and quality of education discourse in the United States.” This feels like a gift because I’m one of those teachers who’s been appreciating bloggers, hoped to blog, but cornered myself into believing my contributions weren’t worthwhile yet. Perhaps Gary’s challenge will give me enough structure to reflect regularly throughout this school year. Here’s my response to the first prompt: Who is ‘the learner’ and who is ‘the teacher?’.
Whether you draw motivation to teach from fear of disintegrating forces of society (oh, say … injust financial systems, patchwork attempts at advancing education systems, capricious approaches to local and global diplomacy – a whole teetering civilization) and/or from a rich optimism and belief in students’ latent abilities, you likely also perceive inherent connectedness in society – whether local or global. So I’ll start there as I explore foundations on which to build a conceptual framework for the “learner”-“teacher” relationship.
Consider for a moment all of humanity. You know, your fellow space travelers trapped on the surface of this sphere. Well, if we compare all those people with a human body, the billions of people that make up humanity are like individual cells of that body. The well-being of an individual cell is wholly dependent on the well-being of the whole person. Similarly, the healthy development of whole entity relies on the health of the small cells. Indeed, unhealthy cells either prevent organs from functioning properly or are cancerous – growing at an unsustainable rate, and threatening the death of the whole person. Isn’t it undeniable that humanity and the individual, too, have a reciprocal, mutually supportive, and mutually dependent relationship?
This is also how I view a country, a town, a school community, and the people within classroom. There’s no meaningful difference between the student and me in terms of inherent wisdom, valid life experiences, or value to one’s community. I am simply charged with the task of giving us direction and focus.
Now, this perspective could be taken too far. At various points in my career as an educator so far, I’ve let this belief convince me to have a laze-faire approach to the interactions and relationships that emerge in my classroom. (e.g. I rebelled against the no-smiles-before-Christmas rule by letting my students say and do what they want – while I used artificially scarce class time to validate their every whim, rather than accompanying them in restraining their frivolous impulses.) Instead, a teacher has the responsibility to command the ship, to learn to balance flexibility with firmness, to facilitate emerging clarity within a constructivist environment.
wholly holistically reject the notion that I, as a “teacher” – despite having a Master’s in science education, am any more likely to come up with and implement a revolutionary community-transforming idea than my students are. My goal is to coach them in that process.
Relevant links don’t naturally fit above:
- These 3 videos contrast learner-learner relationships with teacher-student relationships [2 min each]
- Madiba/Freeman tells it like it is in Invictus: [EDIT: Warner Bros. rightfully claimed the rights to the videos I posted below. So you’ll have to imagine Morgan Freeman/Nelson Mandela saying them – or find another way to watch it.]