Reflection – Who am I as a teacher?
I heard a sermon this week about our need to remember who we are. The pastor cited the examples of the railroad industry and Eastman Kodak. The railroad industry focused too much on the trains and the tracks, and forgot that their purpose was transportation. Eastman Kodak focused on film and forgot that their purpose was preserving memories.
The rest of the sermon was very enlightening, but afterward, I got to thinking: Have I lost sight of my role in the classroom?
On a very shallow level, I could say that my role is to teach mathematics to young learners, but I would be wrong.
A few years ago, I would pride myself on my knowledge of mathematics. After all, I did receive my degree from one of the top universities in Canada. Since then, I have taught every level of high school mathematics and I have a clear understanding of how they all link together. But more recently, with my professional connections through Twitter, I am becoming more and more aware of how little I know about mathematics in comparison to my international colleagues. So, clearly, my role in the classroom is not to share my “expertise.” My students can know as much, if not more, about mathematics simply by doing what they know best – looking it up on the Internet.
Also, as I look at my curriculum, I wonder how much of it they will use after they graduate. How many of them will want or need to simplify rational expressions or solve differential equations, either in their career or just for the fun of it?
So, no, my role is not to “teach math.”
But if that is true, if my role is not simply to bestow knowledge that can easily be found and better explained elsewhere, then what is my role? It’s simple. My role is to model adult thought and activity in learning situations. What do I do when I see a problem I’ve never seen before? How do I find the answer to a question that none of my peers can answer? How do I persevere when I’m out of ideas? How do I balance my efforts with others in my work group? What do I do when I see a pattern that I think happens all the time? How do I communicate my thoughts in a way that is clear and does not unintentionally offend anyone who is listening? What do I do when tempted with an opportunity to be unethical?
I need to show the same curiosity, inquisitiveness, perseverance, balance, creativity, communication, and sense of morality that I expect of them. And I need to show this every day.
But how? Well, I can start by learning more about the subject in which I’m not such an expert anymore – mathematics. I can read about new discoveries in the field, and share my excitement about it in my class. Secondly, I can communicate with my students about things that are of personal interest to me in efforts to demonstrate meaningful dialogue with them. But most importantly, I can learn about something that I care deeply about – my students. I get a new crew every year, and every year they are, individually and collectively, different. What a wonderful use of my time to see how they think, what they like, how they feel, and what motivates them.
I can do this, no matter what the subject or learning level is. Not only is it possible or me to do this, but I must do this. This is my redefined role in the classroom. It is not up to me to decide whether to accept it or not. Today’s learners have made this a job requirement. So not only do I accept it, I also embrace it. After all, I am a lifelong learner. I should start acting like one. And if my students are to become lifelong learners as well, then they deserve to know what that looks like.