User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Teaching as a Human – Humane Process

with 6 comments


I often mention that one of the roles of the educator is that of an ethnographer.  Loosely defined, . . .

An ethnographer is a person who gathers and records data about human culture and societies. An ethnographer often needs to be able to find patterns in and understand issues faced by a wide sample of people with diverse backgrounds.  The information ethnographers collect can be used not only for providing a better understanding of societies, but also for improving quality of life. (

As teachers know, every class they teach is different, every student in each of these classes is different and unique.  Good teaching entails seeing (really seeing) every student in the classroom, getting to know each of them as the individuals they really are and deserve to be. (Disclaimer:  I know this is difficult, if not impossible, for educator who work with hundreds of students at any given time.)

The teacher as an ethnography gets to know individual students as individuals, being able to assess what the student needs when.  Teaching as a human-humane process translates to knowing when to push, when to pull back, when to ignore, when to encourage, when to praise, when to critique, when to challenge, when to nurture, when to cheer, when to show love.

Monica took a teaching methods with me where the class project was to develop a curriculum unit.  I believe and practice mastery learning.  This means students can make revisions and resubmissions when their work does not meet project expectations and criteria.  She worked on the changes I suggested.  Upon a second review, it was still B work, but I knew how hard she worked.  I basically said to myself, “She worked quite hard, to the best of her ability,” so I granted her an A for this winter intersession course.  It was the beginning of Winter term.  I was walking past the dorms.  Monica came out into the second floor balcony with a paper, her grades, in hand.  She exuberantly yelled to me, “Jackie, I got an A in class.  It is the first A I have gotten in college.”  The look of joy on her face was priceless.

Don’t get me wrong.  It is not about giving students A’s to raise their self-esteem.  Sometimes the human-humane process is to push a student to his or her limits.

Andrew, a 25 year-old, was a Teach for America student in the Master’s of Education program where I was teaching.  He received a Bachelor’s degree from an Ivy league school, and came to New Mexico for the programs.  For the curriculum class I was teaching, students were asked to create artifacts for their classroom – no paper nor tests.  Andrew handed in his first project.  It was sloppy and lacked a professional presentation.  He received the equivalent to a C.  He came up to me after class to talk about his grade.  I provided additional feedback the problems with his work.  He began to cry explaining that he always earned A’s for his work but also emphasized that his education, thus far, consisted of taking tests and writing papers.  To this I responded that I understood, but that I would continue to push him to improve the quality of his projects.  His work got better and at the end of the course he told me that as difficult as it was, he appreciated how I challenged him.

Being fair with students is not about providing all students with equal treatment at all times.  This actually leads to unfair treatment of students as they are individuals and are not like widgets – equal in all respects.  It also acknowledges and honors that individual students differ from day to day, sometimes minute to minute as they continue to learn, grasp concepts, change moods, change relationships, and to grow.  This translates into continually assessing individual learner needs and offering them what you think they need to grow and learn at any given moment.

The result are those light bulb moments, when a learner “gets it” – understands something that s/he has struggled to understand, when his or her self-efficacy rises, when a learner realizes s/he is smarter than previously believed – it is these moments that are the most meaningful for me as an educator.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 8, 2013 at 9:56 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Being fair does not mean treating every student the same. Do we give glasses to all our students because one needs them to see the board? The key is in knowing and addressing each student’s needs. What motivates each one? What kind of feedback will be most constructive for each one? How can I ‘hook” todays learning into each one’s experiences? These are key questions for teachers to consider as we plan and instruct. So important to remember that we are teaching kids, real people, and they should always be our focus.

    Mary Snyder

    April 9, 2013 at 5:03 am

  2. Jackie, you are spot on with this. I sometimes set my students up for those lightbulb moments by telling them that they will be hearing a lot of puzzled noises around the room and then, one by one they will hear, “Ahh! I get it!” Sure enough the noises start and everyone celebrates.
    It remains a great shame that we seem unable to judge schools and teachers on any measure that marks these amazing moments and all we can do is hammer educators with statistics.


    April 9, 2013 at 10:14 am

  3. Thanks for you comments – very cool that you set the kids up for the light bulb moments and that you celebrate their learning!

    Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

    April 9, 2013 at 1:54 pm

  4. This is a real lovely article Jackie you can really see how much you care for the education of your students. I agree that you really need to push your students to their limits and allow them to reach their full potential.

    Dave Hart

    April 11, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    • Thanks, Dave!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      April 11, 2013 at 9:16 pm

  5. Many students are consumer conscious, very technologically savvy, gadget focussed and exposed to the pressures of self interest, and are reliant on and tied by social media, gossip and its consequences, good and bad. Where do they learn to accept constructive criticism without going into meltdown? It is in this world where the teacher is one of the few who can impact and share the human qualities of love, nurture, caring, sharing, motivation, organisation and expectations together with industry, honesty, trust, reliability and accepting challenge as growth opportunities. Teachers are, therefore, well equipped and enabled to teach about dreams, self belief and futures of consequence this way. What could be fairer than that?

    Well done Jackie.


    June 18, 2013 at 1:51 am

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