An Education I Wished I Had As a Learner
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)