I had one of those classes this week.
You know, the ones where the conversation veers off on a tangent, takes a backflip, lands and runs on to another series of tangents. We were all over the map that day.
I love conversation. I love learning through conversation. Often I find that I learn a lot from my students when they are comfortable sharing in the conversation.
That day though, this openness felt more like a liability. Openness isn’t far from honesty and sometimes the “truth” hurts. What frustrates me is when that “truth” is uninformed, insensitive, judgemental.
That day we talked about the culture of school and the role of the teacher and student. We talked about the power dynamics of this situation. How teachers are not compensated based on student learning and why it might be a bad idea to do that. I was frustrated by my inability to communicate this point in a way that they could understand. And by understand I mean agree with me. Perhaps that is my problem, I want them to agree…
We also talked about designing the classroom to accommodate the various learning “styles” of those present. This was seen as the teacher’s responsibility, and failure if the students did not learn. This is what got me today. Is it really all MY responsibility when a student doesn’t learn? Are there no other factors involved in the learning process? That is too unrealistic an expectation for me to accept.
What was especially ironic and served to support my point that accommodation is difficult is that a student told me afterwards that they didn’t like the conversation, they want more textbook work, quiet reading and less open conversation.
So I went home that night and I considered this potentially discouraging development. I was discouraged right up until I walked back into the classroom the next day.
I decided to set a positive tone, welcoming those who arrived early. We had another one of our usual discussions, lots of opinions, struggles to link new knowledge with adolescent experience/perspective. As I saw some eyes begin to roll, perhaps upset that I was letting things run off in an unplanned direction, I decided to let them “behind the curtain” and addressed it head on.
“Why do you think I let the class talk so much?” Then answering my own question… “Because you can sometimes teach each other better than I can.”
Lots of surprised looks… teachers aren’t supposed to say that, right? The student who was just brilliantly explaining a concept to a peer looks embarrassed but proud of herself.
Maybe I have recovered a little of what I felt I had lost the previous day. Not control so much, but maybe a little “street cred” that I DO know what I’m doing on occasion. And that is to get them to think and believe that this education is their own and no one else’s.
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