I just happened to pick up Expecting the Unexpected by one of my favorite teachers Donald Murray this morning, flipped to a page, and read this:
“It isn’t easy, however, to get students to teach themselves. It took me years to learn how not to teach, how to keep from interfering with their education, to follow instead of lead.
The first problem is the teacher. We are all tempted by authority. Power over other human beings–as rapists, clergy persons, corporation executives, therapists know–is a powerful addictive drug, and few jobs offer as much power as teacher…
I feared the students would rise en masse and toss me out the window; worse they might expose my ignorance to my colleagues. I mistreated my students and earned a reputation as a good teacher. I behaved as teachers were supposed to behave, and that made me a good one.
When I finally taught myself to relax and learn with the class, to deal in questions rather than answers, listening instead of talking, I confused many of my students.
They expected to be taught, and I expected them to learn.” (128)
It’s the traditional system that teaches them to expect to be taught. I see it in my own kids already. They wait for direction, passive in their approach. The problem is that we as teachers are no longer the sole authorities on content or of knowledge in the classroom. But we can be authorities of learning. Learning is seeking, attempting, failing, reflecting, succeeding, practice. What if we really taught kids that in the context of their own passions? And what if we transparently modeled that process for them? Relected on our own failures and successes? Shared our own strategies? What if teachers were learners first?
Murray also writes:
“As I unlearned to teach, they began to unlearn what they had been taught in other composition classes and began to make use of the room I gave them. I learned how to allow them to learn–and they did.” (129)
This is an important shift in how we see our relationships with our students. Murray figured it out 15 years ago, but I think it’s all the more relevant now.