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Permanent Beginner Status: How Learning Makes Me a Better Teacher

There are many elements to be explored on the correlation between teaching and learning. I've read a lot about how we can learn from our students (which I feel like I do every single day I teach), or continuing to learn about effective teaching through professional development and knowledge of pedagogy (for which I'm also a huge advocate).


Here, though, I want to talk about how being a beginner, a learner - in any capacity - improves the way I feel about my teaching and the way my students get to learn as a result.


When I was a student my favourite teachers - and the ones I learned the most from - were always the ones that I felt like I knew. The reason I often felt like I knew them, I think, is because they were learning with me. When I was younger, this was probably modelled by teachers who pretended they didn't know something they did. As I got older and went through high school, it was teachers commenting on content they found interesting, or an upcoming assessment they were writing for us that they were having to consider, nut out, or get someone else's opinion on to make sure it worked. This realisation that teachers weren't all-knowing beings - and didn't really want to be, either - was amazing to me. (And a far cry from whole-heartedly believing my pre-primary teacher lived at school in the home corner).


At university, I simply appreciated anyone who showed up to class in a real way. Amazingly, I found some of the most intelligent people I'd ever met were still willing to reveal they did not, in fact, know everything! In a place where I often felt like I didn't know enough, I held on to this fact tighter than anything else my tutors had to offer. They were still learning, and that was okay.


Sometimes when I'm teaching a concept I've known for twenty years (as astounding as it is that I could ever be as old as to have known something for that long), I have to remind myself to speak slowly. Be prepared to explain it ten times if necessary. Demonstrate. Give them a minute. The child in front of me has never heard this before. It might seem obvious, but I forget it all the time. It's so easy when we're teaching to speak to our students like they're about to remember what we're teaching them, when they actually don't have it anywhere in their minds yet. It's often brand new information. They're often starting completely from scratch. They might not get it straight away. And that's really hard to imagine when you're old and you've known something such a long time.


Which is where identifying with being a beginner, and learning myself, is a big help. This way, I can recall without much effort the curiosity, amazement, anxieties, bewilderment and fulfilment that can come along with learning something new - and the way my students may be feeling while they're taking in this new information.


Because I still have sessions where I continue to push and push to get better at guitar and/or piano and/or sight-reading complex rhythms and it just will not click into place.


Because I have my memory of the time I reviewed a mountain biking company for a newspaper article and hit my hired-bike brakes where they specifically said don't hit the brakes here and fell straight into the dirt. (A write-off, but a great story).


And when I read John Banville's 'The Sea' with a literal dictionary next to me because the vocabulary was way past my capabilities and I had no idea what was actually happening, but it ended up being a really good read once I battled through it. (A reward).


I know that I still can't straighten my legs when I do a downward dog even though I've been doing yoga for a long time (a work in progress) and I know the satisfaction of how well I can cook a piece of crumbed fish now I've done it every week for about a year. (A tiny achievement that no one will notice except me).


I really believe that by making learning a consistent part of my life, my students benefit. I benefit. And our interactions are much better for it.