Learning in a changing world

It has been almost twenty years since I was in the classroom. Actually, it’s only been seventeen years, but who is counting. I taught thirty years … not one year thirty times. Every year was new.

During those thirty years, I taught a variety of subjects including: social studies for sixth grade, seventh grade, and eighth grade and the gamut of English classes in junior high. In my mind, I became an expert on world cultures, battles of the Texas Revolution, and heroes of American history through the Civil War. I knew how to diagram a sentence and conjugate a verb. I could properly use the nominative pronouns, the objective ones, and “possess” anything. As I said, “in my mind” I was really smart.

Of course, my two birth children, having been raised by parents who grew to “maturity” in the 1960s, were taught to question authority. Therefore, as the years went on, I was buffeted often with the phrase, “I don’t think that’s right.” My students were no different. Sometimes I would bluster through a discussion by pretending that I was playing devil’s advocate and tell them to “Look it up.” At the same time, I was racking my brain trying to remember if Mohammad had one M in the middle or two.

I eventually learned I really didn’t have to be an expert. It was a learning experience, and the students would learn much more if they were given the opportunity to find out for themselves, rather than listen to a “blah-blah-blah” lecture about the battle of the Alamo. There were some “facts” that I wanted them to know. I wanted them to know the basic structure of our government as laid out in the Constitution. I wanted them to understand how a bill becomes a law.

 I wanted them to recognize the names of the men who served as President of the United States, and maybe I’d have liked them to have a bit of a time-line in their heads about the order of events in the history of Texas and US. Like most kids between the ages of eleven and thirteen, they took very little of what I said home with them … except the time I slipped and said a dirty word … or the time I told them that Sam Houston never divorced his Indian wife before he married the mother of his eight kids.

As I said, I was an “expert” on a lot of information … for a while. Long before the end of the thirty years, I realized that history “facts” changed, grammar “rules” became obsolete, and unless we were really ready to roll with the times, we’d be left behind. My job was to enjoy learning and pass that joy along to my students. After all, as adults we realize, most of the history we know was learned after we got out of school. Most of the words we learned to spell were never learned for a spelling test, but seeped into our brains through reading. Furthermore, most of us learned about the Constitution and how a bill becomes a law from the cartoon “Bill, on Capital Hill.” 

I still enjoy learning … even though as I get older my brain has to work harder to “bring it up.” I enjoyed being the expert, but teaching isn’t about being the expert, it’s about providing the opportunities to learn and enjoy. God bless those who teach and those who learn … and God help those who know it all.

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