Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Teachers: We Are Not Center of the Universe

As I work on wrapping up my master's degree, I have a class this semester that lasts for three hours, on a weeknight, and it gets out at 10:00 p.m. This is unfortunate.

On the bright side, this course gives me plenty of time to think and reflect (and write this post), because I'm able to sit in the back and only tune in when my professor moves to the next slide in his PowerPoint. Being allowed to sit through this extraordinary learning opportunity (#snark), I find myself thinking back on my time in the classroom. And I'm not all that pleased with what I see.

When I taught, too many days I just stood and delivered (in a non-Jaime Escalante kind of way), thinking that my students were engaged with what I was saying simply because I was saying it. I had an over inflated sense of how important I was in my own classroom.

I thought I was the center of the universe.

In retrospect, I'm lucky my students learned anything at all. They were compliant, fighting through the haze like the one I'm in right now. It's the fogginess that sets in when you know the authority in control of your situation is in love with the sound of their own voice. And once you figure out that the person who's talking isn't stopping, there's not much of a reason to stay mentally present.

Moving backwards on my own personal timeline is impossible, so I can't do anything about the past. But I can take a look at the people I coach now and consider the way I work with them.

Basically, I need to shut up more.

I am the center of my own universe, not anyone else's. Learning, regardless of your age, is only as important to you as it has relevance to your life. And since I can't possibly know what's relevant to every person I'm training, the only way I can find that out is to be quiet and listen, then try to connect.

People have to engage with ideas and figure out what it means in their situation. That's because most of us are only interested in knowledge as it relates to us and our world. The research tells us that adults approach professional development with a problem-solving mentality: if you can't show them how it meets a need, they won't engage with it, and they haven't learned. They've sat.

They've done what I'm doing right now in this class.

So I'm training a group of administrators in the morning, and I hope I can remember this eyes-glazing-over, motivation-sapping feeling I have right now if I start to talk too much. I think it'll keep me in check.

Because if I really want people to learn, I have to teach with the understanding that everyone thinks that the planets orbit around them. The question is simply this: am I willing to give up being the center of my universe to try and understand theirs for a bit? If so, this teaching thing just might work out for me.


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