Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Things I Learned Became Part of Me

I came across an interesting piece in Huffington Post a few weeks ago about boredom in schools. It actually sounds a lot like an article I had published in Christian Educators Journal back in 2009. Simply put, students should not be bored in school. Period.

I'm not saying that every activity will be self-selected by the students or that they will be enraptured by every topic the teacher brings up. Sometimes school is just hard work. But let's not minimize the fact that hard work can be satisfying in it's own right! How do we get kids to start thinking that way too?

I once read that learning is the opposite of boredom. (Maybe we could also argue that learning is the antidote to boredom?) But I wonder sometimes if teachers are doing their part too? Are we really trying to be sure that students won't be bored in the classroom?

This might sound like a slippery slope towards "edutainment" or something like it. I don't really mean that, of course. But if learning is the antidote to boredom, maybe we need to get better at finding ways to make learning matter to our students, and maybe we need to think about how we foster learning in our classrooms.

What does this look like in practice? I have a few ideas...

I had an EXCEPTIONAL 5th grade teacher. We learned at least 100 upper-level vocabulary words that year (gregarious, immaculate, debris, amicable, bullion, incorrigible...) Rather than just giving us lists of words with definitions to memorize, we practiced them in all sorts of creative means: we sang them, chanted them, and acted them out in pantomime. (I can clearly remember him standing on his desk and conducting us with a meterstick as we chanted.) More than that, we were encouraged to use these vocabulary words in our speech and in our writing. His teaching was interactive, and the things I learned became part of me.

I had an AMAZING middle school history teacher. Rather than lecture, she told stories. When we were learning about the wars between Persia and Greece, she didn't give us a point-by-point outline; she told us the stories of the battles. She didn't make us memorize the names of people and places, she set the stage by introducing the characters and setting of the story. I've remembered the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae to this day because of her masterful work as a storyteller. Her teaching was engrossing, and the things I learned became part of me.

I had a FANTASTIC high school math teacher. Rather than just give us one problem set after another, he brought his bicycle to class, jammed on his helmet, and pedaled around the room. This was the springboard to getting us thinking about gear ratios, which in turn led to discussions about proportions and rates, which in turn helped us understand ideas about percentages and the relationships between fractions and decimals. So many things in that class connected to "real life" that it made math make sense! His teaching was inspiring, and the things I learned became part of me.

I had an INCREDIBLE Education professor in my undergraduate work. He taught several of the elementary methods courses I took, and every one of them was practical and tangible and made me excited to teach. Every assignment I remember from those courses was something that required us to put ourselves into our future classroom and think about how we would engage our students in authentic work to develop deep understanding. Much of who I am as an educator was shaped in those courses. His teaching was encouraging, and the things I learned became part of me.

I had a SPECTACULAR Education professor in my graduate work. The readings he assigned and the questions he asked got me to rethink almost everything I was doing in my classroom practice. He encouraged me to expriment and explore and test and always hold everything up to the light to examine how it fits with what I believe about teaching and learning and the nature of children. As I worked, and thought, and rethought, I held on to the good and let go of the questionable, an ongoing process for me right up to the present, and for the foreseeable future. His teaching was challenging, and the things I learned became part of me.


You may be reading this and thinking, "Well sure...he's cherry-picking some examples of the very best educational experiences he's had!"

Yes. Yes, I am.

Because those are the things that stuck. Those are the things that made a big difference for me, for how I think about what good teaching looks like.

Is every teacher going to be above average? Certainly not. It's a statistical impossibility, after all. (Unless you live in Lake Wobegon.) But should every teacher have above average moments? I would say that's something to strive for.

Interactive, engrossing, inspiring, encouraging, challenging teaching.

Teaching in such a way that the things our students learn become part of them.

No boredom allowed.

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