User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

An Education I Wished I Had As a Learner

with 11 comments

Historically, teachers teach the way they were taught.  I want to change this.  I am on a mission to encourage and assist teachers in designing learning experiences they wished they had as students.  Seriously, how many would create lecture-based learning settings?  It is my belief that since that was the model used from early on, that most got used to it.  Some tolerated it, some endured, and some dropped-out (dropping out does not necessarily mean physically, it can mean physically attending school but mentally dropping out).  How many teachers, who use lectures as a primary instructional strategy, found them boring and ineffective when they were students?

I believe that a major role and responsibility of the educator is to become an ethnographer in the study of his or her students.  Educators should know the background, interests, passions, antagonizers of every student.

So I am going on a personal narrative.  I am going to become Jackie’s teacher and design learning experiences for her.

Dear Younger Jackie:

Jackie, I know that your school experiences left you with a life lasting legacy that you are defective. You were told to shut up, sit still, stay on topic, stay in line, raise your hand, don’t disrupt.

I will be an ethnographer in the study of you. I want to be your personal teacher and create learning experiences that invite you to disrupt, to innovate, to create, to imagine, to be you.

I will never make you listen to lectures of more than 15 minutes, memorize information, or take multiple-choice tests.  You have told me that not only do you find these tasks boring, you find them painful.  I will, instead, ask you to write, create, speak, make, and perform.

I know you find sitting in desks, sitting properly, sitting still to be confining, constricting, and contrived.  Playing, moving, and tinkering are such integral parts of how you learn.  Our learning environment will look more like a family room than a classroom.  Our playground will be an extension of our learning environment not one separated by time and space.

Your need for wanting to know more about topics is inspiring.  The Internet is such a gift for you.  I will permit you to have your laptop open and search for information when the need arises.  I will not ask you to unplug as you know when it is important to do.  I will respect your ability to self-regulate.   I will also ask you to share with others what you learn.  I know you love to share what you find with others.

I will observe you to find what interests you and suggest resources and readings that interest you like that English teacher who saw the types of fiction books you carried around with you, and gave you a massive books of plays.  She then suggested that you perform a few of them to the rest of the class.  Your performances, with a few of your classmates, of Edward Albee’s The Sandbox and other plays were such joy to her.

I know you “wonder” a lot out loud and ask a lot of questions including, “Why do I need to know this?”  I will point you in directions where you can get answers to your questions.  I will do my best in engage you in rich discourse or point you in directions where you can get answers to your questions.  I promise not to sssh you as so many teachers have. I know that is cuts through you like a knife and shuts down your passion and energy.

Relationships are the essence of all positive learning experiences. I know your family life has been tough, and that you developed a hard exterior to protect that soft, sensitive interior.  I will never look at you with disdain. Rather, I will treat you only with kindness, compassion, and love.

I will recognize you are my student and it my job to guide. When you are incorrect, too loud, too abrupt, I will take you to the side, and with love give you some feedback.  I will end these little conversations with a smile and a little hug.

And when I do see the hurt in the eyes, your eyes really do tell a story that you words do not.  I will touch you gently on the arm, and quietly say, “It’s okay.”

We will, as bell hooks suggests, create a place of possibility, openness, and freedom, where our hearts and minds will transgress all self-imposed boundaries.

Learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom. (hooks 1994: 207)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

11 Responses

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  1. I love this. My students will see this before we end our second day together. Thanks.

    Al Tucker (@altucker)

    August 16, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    • Then they will expect you to be the ethnographer of them😉

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      August 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm

  2. Jackie,

    Holly Chesser at SAIS tweeted me on on this, and thankful that she did. So much of this blog resonates with me! I think the reason Holly thought of me is that the post title is almost exactly the same as the sub-title of my book. I really do not promote my book; I wrote it more for myself and my students than for any popular consumption, but some folks are starting to read it: The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School. If you are interested you can download the intro from by blog site and maybe it will be of interest for you: http://learningpond.wordpress.com. I enjoy seeing what interests you via your Twitter posts and mentions from other great educators.

    Grant Lichtman

    August 16, 2012 at 7:55 pm

  3. Nice post Jackie. However, I just wonder whether, or not, we are preaching to the converted. We can understand how teachers get overwhelmed by change and revert to the “good old days”. What I find disconcerting are those teachers who can read a post like this, and then defend all students doing the same thing at the same, using exams/national tests as a justification.

    However, the only way it will change is if people keep doing what you are.

    MV Education Services

    August 16, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    • If they are going back to the same thing, then maybe not preaching to the converted. I always try to see, really see, each and every student. Until it becomes the norm, the will continue to preach. I hope you will do so, too!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      August 17, 2012 at 12:06 am

  4. I was lucky to spend the day today at a school that is spending the entire first week, not going over procedures and handing our textbooks and rules but on building culture, getting to know their students and having their students be introspective about themselves. It was a school I would have loved as my “high school self”. Your post is perfect for them as they embark on this journey!

    Theresa Shafer (@TheresaShafer)

    August 17, 2012 at 1:28 am

    • Theresa . . . and they are lucky to have you as a teacher; who “gets” this!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      August 17, 2012 at 1:31 am

    • As a teacher at that school Theresa thanks for your kind words. It was great getting to meet you today and experience your passion for a project/inquiry based approach to education. I am truly excited about the journey we have begun at The School of Inquiry. Jackie thank you for you post. It makes me wonder if I really could take my math class and personalize at least one lesson for every student. If I know their passions, I honestly think I might be able to tailor at least one lesson to each student. Literally tell “Mikey” this lesson is for you! I thought of you and your passions as I created it. I have 103 students and 178 days left to achieve it. It’s worth a shot!!! Thanks for the inspiration!!!

      Michael Delp

      August 17, 2012 at 1:58 am

      • Michael – go for it. To give students the gift of being seen and heard is priceless!

        Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

        August 17, 2012 at 2:00 am

  5. Consider this passed on to the 18 teachers in my school! Thanks for expressing what a lot of us think so brilliantly.

    Simon Lewis (@simonmlewis)

    August 20, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    • Thanks, Simon!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      August 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm


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