(I’m in Wes Freyer mode today, huh?)
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.
technorati tags:Donald_murray, teaching, learning, change
Clarence Fisher says
I truly believe you are touching something very important in this post. I see it in my junior high students all the time. They cry out to be led, to be “force fed” material they sometimes hate. It makes it easy for them to be passive receivers of information. They need to unlearn this state and learn that education is an active process that requires them to be involved. Only by changing our classroom structure can we begin trying this out.
Tom Hoffman says
Murray published Learning by Teaching in 1982, so you could say 25 years as easy as 15. Or, to put it another way, these ideas have been held by practically everyone actually interested in the discipline of teaching writing for the entire professional career of everyone reading this blog.
I have always started out any professional development “class” by reminding people that I am a learner first, a teacher second and that is why I got into this profession. 40 year veterans who remember that are still vibrant.
I like to refer to Neil Postman’s “Technopoly” in which he posits the notion of “filters” in society. The Internet has removed “curriculum” as a filter, because “curriculum” tells people (kids and teachers)what is important to learn and, by ommission, what is not. The “people”, however, can now learn anything, anywhere, anytime. As you say…
“…we can be authorities of learning”…
– but not learning in ONLY a classroom!
I think the most challenging part of the whole process is learning to unlearn.
Jonathan Seal says
I also agree with everyone here, yet want to post a concern. It is important but starting transformation at the teacher level is difficult at best, because without administrative support this is type of learning teaching is extremely difficult. For example, I teach math in a technical high school (www.cttech.org/norwich) and am mandated to teach difficult abstract concepts. Many of my students will never need, or would discover if guided these abstract algebraic or geometric concepts my state requires be taught and â€œmasteredâ€.
Thanks for the provoking discussion.