Teaching as a Human – Humane Process
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. (http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-an-ethnographer-do.htm)
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.