Thursday, February 15, 2018

Water is Taught by Thirst

(If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may recall my series from last Fall that I entitled "Learning to Teach Again." This post might be in a similar vein...)

I was visiting with my colleague, Abby, this morning. (I should note that she gave me permission to share this story.) This is her first year teaching in higher ed, and while she's an experienced educator, there are some new things to figure out. I remember that feeling so well--while I felt confident in my teaching ability...there are some things that are just a little different than teaching in K-12. One of my favorite differences is the fact that we can take time to think about our teaching practices, and collaborate, and--well, as Abby and I were doing this morning--talk about teaching. It's not that I never did this with my colleagues when I taught in K-12. I did. But it always took a little more arranging.

In our visiting this morning, we were reflecting on how it was for us way back at the beginning of our respective teaching careers. We were thinking together about how it is when you're getting started, and how daunting it is. While I felt well prepared in some ways, I felt woefully inadequate in others. ( I recently shared on this blog...I still feel the need to apologize to those former students of mine from way back when...)

In particular, we were thinking of how we started out feeling as if we were somehow "against" our students. least...that we felt like our students were against us. She shared how it took a few years to realize the difference it makes when we can convince our students that we are, in fact, for them. There are so many things that we can only learn by doing them.

The students I teach now sometimes express to me how they feel a little uncertain about stepping into their own classrooms. I always reassure them that they will be well-prepared to begin their work as professional educators--better than I was, I think! But they will be well-prepared to begin their work...they will learn a lot through the doing!

Abby and I parted ways to get to work on other things. There is always grading to be done; there is always planning for the next lesson.

But a little while later, Abby emailed me a poem. She had come across it while preparing for a lesson for one of her courses, and read it through new eyes in light of our conversation.

The poem is by Emily Dickinson, and it is entitled "Water, Is Taught By Thirst." Give it a read:
Water, is taught by thirst.
Land—by the Oceans passed.
Transport—by throe—
Peace—by its battles told—
Love, by Memorial Mold—
Birds, by the Snow. 

Image by Patrik Nygren [CC BY-SA 2.0]
And maybe teaching is that way too. We learn by doing, by experience, by making mistakes, by the antithesis of what we intended.

Maybe it's a good reminder of how far I've come...and how far I still have to go in my growth towards mastering this arcane art of teaching.

Maybe it's a reminder for my students recognize their false-starts, and missteps, and tentative tries in the classroom as the place where learning really happens--for them, and for their own students as well.

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