I just had the most inspiring conversation with a teacher at my son’s school. Not his current teacher; just one that I have come to know over the years.
Today we started talking about technology in the classroom, but the conversation quickly shifted to discussing the tools available to her. As a teacher who strives to create differentiated learning scenarios, she shared anecdotes about how the technology she uses benefits the children with different learning styles. Technology gives her the freedom to create different learning experiences, and the opportunity to reach more kids.
But here is where her comments really caught my attention. She kept referring to teaching as an art form. She understands that teaching isn’t about her; teaching isn’t about what she knows and what she can push into the minds of children.
Teaching is about creating a space for a child to learn, and giving them the tools and permissions they need. Teaching is as much about understanding children and how they learn—the capacity each child has to learn—as it is about instilling the core concepts that will be at the foundation of everything else they come to know.
I didn’t like school. Or rather, I didn’t like being tested. I loved learning; and I loved being with friends; and I loved experiencing different things; and I loved discussing ideas; and I loved being challenged. I still do. And the experts said I was smart—I like to think I am still. But I didn’t get good grades in school, and that was a problem for me.
When I was in school (70s-80s) it was clear the institution put the burden back on me to be a good student (and therefore get good grades), rather than sharing any responsibility to be good teachers (and therefore helping me learn).
I remember exactly when I stopped enjoying school and teachers; it was about the same time I was expected to regurgitate answers, remember selective facts, or offer opinions on ambiguous things that were duller than dirt. When the measurement of learning became about knowing what I’d been told—not understanding and applying what I know—then school became a chore to satisfy someone else, not an opportunity to explore my own capacity.
So when my son tells me he doesn’t like school, I start to dread the next decade. I start to wonder if we aren’t going to repeat the same fights I had with my own dad about school grades, work ethic and the disconnect between being smart and testing dumb. I start to dread the expectations society puts on school marks, knowing that he is set up for failure if his teachers have the same attitude many of mine did.
In all the social debates about schools and teachers and how it all gets funded, we don’t often get reminded that school teachers are professionals. Their trade is to facilitate learning for children, and they are experts. In the repetitive formula that makes up the school year, I understand how it’s easy to get caught up in the daily routines and monotony—some might even say drudgery—of school.
We just can’t let people formulate teaching at the expense of the excitement of learning.
I get excited for kids when I meet teachers who know that part of being a professional is to recognize the art in their trade; the ability to apply what they know to the individual needs of a situation. I get excited when I meet teachers who continue to learn how to teach; teachers who want to create different learning conditions to reach students; teachers who take responsibility for learners.
I don’t expect my son to love waking up everyday and shuffling of to a classroom. But I won’t let the school system suppress his desire and capacity to learn by their obligation merely to teach. That’s why this teacher excites me.