Wednesday, September 27, 2006

on teaching and learning . . .

Bill Evans is, I imagine, a master teacher after 17 years of teaching English to eigth graders at Manhattan's Trevor Day School.

Not that longevity is good for much other than getting old. But look what Mr Evan wrote in the New York Times:

. . . What I’m trying to say is, there’s something extremely tentative and fluid about the classroom situation. It is never, ever a sure thing. A teacher does his or her best to stack the odds in favor of success, and a consistently high level of success is definitely attainable, but a classroom is not a machine. Learning is essentially a private, almost secret, inner event, and schools are extremely public and social arenas that attempt to facilitate that event’s occurrence. Ideally, the friction between these two realities creates sparks. But learning is stubborn. It happens on its own schedule. It is extremely difficult to understand what one doesn’t understand, to see what one simply cannot see, and that’s the soil that learning sprouts out of, at least initially. But not to get hung up on horticultural metaphors — fortunately, learning is also explosive. Those sparks can do the trick, and do; I’m here to attest to it.

If teaching has taught me anything, it’s that learning happens. I’ve seen it repeatedly. I’ve grown to trust the process, and the longer I teach, the more comfortable I’ve become with the fact that I, as teacher, don’t seem to be in charge of this process at all. I am much more a witness, and when I’m really good, a facilitator. . . .

I can only add a phrase I've come to rely on (it's a skeleton next to Bill Evan's fully formed human — still, it helps me remember which end is up when I'm designing content):

People don't learn what they're supposed to learn. People learn what they're prepared to learn.

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