“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.” ~ Nikos Kazantzakis
We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher leave them kids alone
Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone!
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall
The first thing I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a teacher. The expectations of my family and culture sent me on a different path, but here I am back to the beginning of life’s spiral dance many moons later. This is a good place from which to begin formalized teaching because my experiences have shaped my philosophy of life, which will have a huge influence on the way that I approach pedagogy. The child of immigrants, I employ their method of becoming part of the system: Understand it first before making change to better suit my perspective. In addition, my time in corporate America and Wall Street showed me firsthand the differences between an engaged climate and an uninspired one—the former led to a collaborative and peaceful work environment while the latter damaged morale throughout the organization.
I have the luxury of studying pedagogy a semester before walking in front of the classroom, so I am learning what it entails, best practices, innovations, and what methods might suit my skillset best. I am letting my ideas spark firestorms in my head, thinking in hyperbole as well as trying to understand the traditional methods still employed and encouraged throughout academe. I am also making plans to watch excellent teachers in action so that I can study how they guide students’ imaginations.
I’m also remembering…Why did I want to become a teacher at such a young age? Teachers helped me to find competence and confidence to explore the world, and they often were kind and sometimes inspiring. But I also recall how I excelled in 9th grade algebra and had to sit through almost the entire year bored because I had already mastered the concepts. Many years later, I wish I had retained that knowledge or been given the opportunity to further my mathematical studies because I now sit in statistics classes scratching my head—and today, algebra confounds me. My aptitude was never supported or put into application, and it wasted away.
More recently, what has worked for me as a student is being able to apply theory to practice such as role-playing and engaging in simulations to make concepts come alive and have meaning. So as I prepare to teach for the first time, I want to learn from my predecessors, who include other graduate students who have brought their modern mindset to teaching and use tools of the younger generations to make the classroom a place of discovery rather than boredom. As Sugata Mitra extols, we no longer need to develop apprentices who merely replicate what we do. We need people to learn what ha been done in the past in order to advance it, not only in terms of execution but also of thinking above and beyond how it is conceived. We should be telling our students and employees, “Paradigm shifts encouraged.” But first, we need to listen and hear them, rather than wait our turn to speak or we’ll all be lost in translation.
I don’t believe that students are asking for us to entertain them (well not the majority anyway). They are asking us to make education relevant and important. Asking “why” shouldn’t be seen as inflammatory but a way of understanding. Why do people invest thousands of hours learning how to play a video game? Because it matters to them. I myself play jigsaw puzzles on my iPad when I need a break. While I enjoy it for its meditative qualities, I find myself hurrying to finish so I can win the promised “reward.” It wouldn’t matter if I didn’t care.
It’s pretty clear that I am unabashedly a yearner in the language of Seymour Papert. My philosophy of life bears that out. I believe that all sentient beings are students and teachers, no matter what our demographics including age or species. I believe that aptitude is not defined by linear standards, and that there are many kinds of intelligence that should be fostered both at home and in school. We do a huge disservice to our civilization by penalizing unique talents and divergent thinking. Like therapists and clients, educators and learners both have mutual responsibility to create an environment conducive to the safe exploration of ideas. It is my hope that as an educator I can be a bridge connecting the old and new, the traditional and innovative, so that we are moving in the right direction toward building a better system.