Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reaching the Top

In The Continual Rush??? from Tech Thoughts By Jen by JenW, Jen talks about a conversation with a colleague.

“But as we talked, her continual conversation came back to — “but Jen, you know so much more” and I continue to remind her that I have been at this since 1995….but I still send a frustration in her voice that seems to say “will I ever catch up?””

This conversation made me think about my relationship with my students. I wondered if they felt the same way and were overwhelmed by me as a teacher. I usually inform them about my education and my years experience but does that really matter to them? I have been knitting for about a year now and can still only do basic stuff. Yet, when I go to my knitting group, they are doing lots of fancy stuff and making exciting things.Will I ever reach that point when I can do something like that? Some have told me that they have been doing this for years but others have not and are doing complicated stuff. I feel frustrated because I want to do this now, not in the future. I know exactly how my students feel.

Does our system constantly make our students feel as if they know nothing and will never get to the point where they feel knowledgeable? Do we constantly point out their insufficiencies? Do we focus more on what they can’t do rather than acknowledge their strengths? Or do we unconsciously send the message that all they need to do is graduate and that is the end of their education. It seems like we focus too much on telling these kids they don’t know enough and need to try harder to meet the standards that our state sets. Then when they passed the exit exam to graduate, my students felt like, “Okay, my learning is done. I’ve mastered what they said I needed to know.”

I want my students to know that learning will take place throughout their lives. I want to teach them how to go about learning something new that they want to learn. I want them to know where to look for information, where to go for help, and how to find the support they need. Nothing is more frustrating than wanting to learn how to do something but not knowing how to go about doing so.

I also want my students to know that they do not have to know the same amount of “stuff” that someone else knows and know it all by the same time. I demonstrated this to my class when I was trying to learn how to juggle (I just thought it would be a neat thing to learn how to do) and had so much trouble learning. Finally a student had to show me over and over before I finally got the hang of it. Then I explained that here was someone younger than me that knew different things than I did and that was okay. This was a perfect time to talk about different strengths and interests that people have and that it was okay to cultivate them. That is why a car mechanic works on my car and not an eye doctor. Of course I don’t want a car mechanic to perform eye surgery on me either. Yet I don’t feel that one profession is “better “than another because both were extremely important to me.

I explain to my students that even with all my college degrees, it doesn’t make me “better” than them. I only have more book knowledge than them and I am there to help them find their way in the world. They need to find a career that will make them happy and independent. This was impressed on them when my car’s oil pan was leaking and needed to be welded back together and a former special education student fixed my car for me. All my college degrees would not have helped my car get fixed quickly enough for me to use it. Eventually I might have learned how to fix it myself but I would have had to do without transportation for a lot longer than I could afford.

Sometimes it is hard to see success when you are the one climbing up a mountain. But when you get to the top and look down, you can feel proud of your successes. I hope that I can help my students reach the top.

Original image: 'AgullesAmitges.jpg' by: Xavier Varela


Teresa McNamara said...

Great post! And a good reminder to look as things as being glass half full with students. I always try and explain how what we are learning is relevant to real life.

laura said...

I recently read a great book that contained the line: "We must share with students' our learning failures and strategies otherwise they run the risk of believing that we go from "amateur" to "professional" in one step."

It's so true. We hide so much of the learning process that students think being confused is a bad place to be. But confusion is brilliant!

Recently I took up the violin. I talk to students all the time about how hopeless I am and how I have to keep practicing even when I am demoralisingly bad. I also talk to them about how often I re-read journal articles as I study for my Masters because I find them so hard (even though it's my 3rd degree!).

We have a duty as teachers to share all parts of learning with our students- the exciting beginning,the hard confusing parts, the glory of being able to do things and the importance of keeping up to date even when we can do something.

loonyhiker said...

Teresa: I think having relevance is one of the most important things. Without it, we lost our students quickly.

loonyhiker said...

Laura: I know your students have learned so much from your modeling how you learn the violin. I guess it makes them feel like they are not alone in the "learning boat!" Thanks for sharing your story!

teachin' said...

Great post, and a great reminder - right now my kids are doing how to speeches, and it's so fun to watch them come up with ideas of what they personally are good it, especially the stuff that isn't usually part of school. Their faces beam as they show their expertise and get to experience success in a different way.

loonyhiker said...

@teachin': What a great way to feature their strengths! Thanks for sharing.