I just read some very compelling reflections from Bill Richardson’s blog at weblogg-ed . In it he hits on what I believe should be at the heart of our teaching pedagogy:
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I learned from those three influential classroom teachers I had growing up. Not much of what I remember has anything to do with content. I mean I remember some of the assignments and exercises, sure. But what I remember most, and the reason they’re still with me today, was their passion for learning, their willingness to go beyond the text or topic, their senses of humour. They were the smartest three teachers I had, not so much in what they knew about their subjects but in what they knew about learning. They were always talking about things they’d read, and about how those ideas had relevance in their lives. They were sincerely interested in what I had to say, to make sure I was “getting it,” no doubt, but also because they seemed to want to understand their own learning more deeply. They would challenge me, but even more, I got the sense they wanted to be challenged back. As opposed to the worst teachers I can remember, the ones who knew everything and knew exactly what they wanted us to know, these teachers consistently modelled learning, not teaching. ( Teach Content or Teach Learning? par.1)
This really hits home for me. When I think back at the various teachers I have encountered in my educational ‘career,’ the ones who stand out are not ones who necessarily taught the curriculum well (at least those are not the moments I remember, but I must confess that those ‘mentor teachers’ who stand out in my mind were strong as teachers as well…). The teachers and professors who I consider to be mentors in my educational experience were ones who were constantly pushing the envelope of my thinking and challenging me to continue to grow in my learning. These teachers were great learners at heart, and I think this is what endeared them to me… Like Richardson, I do not remember great moments of content delivery as things that stand out, but more conversations during class, after class, sitting on a prof’s shabby couch in his cramped office discussing Frankenstein , research ideas, and Hemmingway while admiring bookshelves crammed with books and research. I think the ‘in class’ moments that stand out to me most are more in terms of discussion, ideas, those fires that were lit in my brain. The word ‘charisma’ comes to mind, as I recall many of my teachers invested passion in the subjects they taught; they were there because they loved the subject and they loved learning (although at least one prof comes to mind as coming across as socially inept, yet he had such a drive to learn and to challenge students and was open to being challenged (as long as the challenge was given in an informed way).
I must also add at this point that many of the high school teachers who stand out in my mind were ones who believed in me. They heard what I was interested in, and they encouraged me to grow in that. These experiences were ones that happened outside of the classroom context* . Other than that, most of the influential teachers who stand out in my mind were Professors. The point remains, however, that these teachers invested themselves in their work in a way that was genuine. They were passionate about learning, and were not afraid to express that passion.
*Richardson’s blog entry comes to me just after reading a disturbing report published in “Christian Home and School” entitled ‘Pay Attention, Say Teens.’ I will repeat it here for the sake of understanding:
Teenagers in five large U.S cities gave their teachers high marks but wish they had more direct contact with teachers. Three fourths of those surveyed gave A’s or B’s to their teachers for being well organised, communicating clearly, knowing their subjects, and having high expectations. Barely half of the teens, however, gave teachers the same grades for meeting students’ individual needs.
More than two-thirds said that their teachers never or only rarely speak to them one-on-one about their academic performance. A quarter of the students said that there isn’t an adult at school they can talk to if they have a problem. (Grand Rapids,Christian Schools International, Vol. 83.5, Oct/Nov. 05, page 8 )
In light of this quote and Richardson’s post, infective teachers are those who invest themselves in their students. They are ones who, as Richardson says, ‘modelled learning’. If we are excited and engaged in our own learning and share it with our students, isn’t that engaging them? Isn’t that modelling that thirst for ‘lifelong learning?’