Friday, September 13, 2013

I Had to Teach to Learn | September 6, 2013

Seth Furlow

I was a good high school student. I was active in leadership, athletics, and academics. I was able to pull off some good grades, and graduated with a strong GPA. At the time of my graduation I would have considered myself a good learner. At the end of my first semester of college my perspective was quite different. I had struggled in all of my core classes, I had no defined study habits or study patterns, and my GPA was a solid indicator of this shift in my self-awareness as a learner. What was so different? How had a few short months changed the complete mental picture I had of myself as a student and a learner? It took the better part of the next decade for me to figure this out, but along the way I came to the conclusion that my perception of who I was as a learner while in high school had been falsely inflated. I had not been a good learner. I was lucky, and somewhat lazy. I chose to stick with classes that where I knew ahead of time I would find success. I had not challenged myself, and as a result had never developed the skills essential to be a good learner. The irony of this realization is that it did not all quite come together for me until I finished my first year of teaching. In the role of the teacher, I actually became a good learner.

My school experience was rather traditional. Teacher in front of the class, students in rows struggling to pay attention and absorb as much information as the teacher was willing to serve up. My first year teacher, I was reluctantly assigned a schedule that consisted of mostly chemistry. It was at that moment that I began to really regret sleeping in through a lot of my 8am chemistry classes in college. I had passed the Michigan Certification Test in general science, I had a Masters Degree in education, and the school felt I was qualified with 19 credits of chemistry under my belt. I felt rather unprepared, but a job is a job. I worked harder that year than I think I ever had in my life. I studied up on my content just ahead of planned lessons. I read, took notes, rewrote notes, made presentations, designed lab activities and read some more. I began to feel more confident with the material, and realized I was actually learning this stuff better than I ever had while in high school and college. I had to. How else was I going to discuss these concepts with reluctant high school students, anticipate their questions, be able to answer their questions, and feel comfortable enough to say I had done my best to get them to learn? It was hard work, something I hadn't been used to before.

So what is the role of the teacher? The role of the teacher is that of a true learner. A lover of knowledge and the power that it holds. A model, for what good learning looks like. Demonstrate and discuss how you put all your class information together. Be honest when you don't know something, and show your students what it will take to adequately learn something new. As a learner, you must work hard. Face up to the challenge of not knowing something, be curious, and ask questions. Be proactive, and seek out information on your own. Don't wait for someone to tell you something. The best teachers, the ones most passionate about their subject matter and what they do for a living, just might be the best learners out there.