Friday, 19 September 2014

Why I teach

So #ccourses this week has asked the question why do I teach? And the answer is: Do I still teach? I am an instructional designer now rather than a face to face classroom educator. And I've never taught at a university, though I do teach adults. Now I create self contained online lessons that have both a knowledge portion, "This is how you do this.", and a testing function, "Show that you understand the skills that were just demonstrated and can apply them." The adults who view my offering have no choice in whether they wish to receive them as it is part of their job to watch and learn the tasks as instructed. So is that still teaching? Or is it skills training? Or an amalgam of both?

Why do I teach? Why do I still identify myself always as an educator? My 'why' is that to explore with others is integral to who I am as a person. Yes I explore ideas by myself constantly. But for me and this held true even when I was an elementary teacher, the learning journey is so much richer when it is a shared journey. Because it is a journey of asking questions and exploring the answers together. Because my perspective is narrow and comes from only my experiences and the knowledge I've garnered through study. Only when I open myself up to other perspectives do I really soar as a thinker and a learner. I always think better when discussing ideas.

So for me connecting is an entrenched learning style. And I am also at the point in my learning where I decide my level of engagement. By that I mean, does the learning opportunity actually ask me to be engaged and creative and produce something that brings meaning to my life and the lives of others? Or does is only ask that I absorb and judge?

I've been to a lot of universities. I am an older woman after all. And I've learned to play the university game- shut up, listen, discuss in the approved manner (deferring ever to the professor's biases), regurgitate, write, test. First time round, I was a miserable failure at this. I was young and had been told that university was where I would really learn things. And I did, but I also learned that what I thought really didn't matter. And I rebelled. And when I did, my marks suffered. In this way university was a repeat of high school. Only when I went back to university in my thirties and forties did I understand how to play the game and play I did. I needed the degrees for work (that's a big why!) I still got my hand slapped when I fell off the wagon and actually wrote or spoke what I really thought and once again it would show up in my grades. I call it the 'how dare you contradict me' problem. I do contradict. I do question. Why is this so and this not so?

Just like a K-12 classroom educator, the professor is the final adjudicator of a student's capability. But if you thought the power relationship is one sided in K-12, it is even more uneven in higher ed. Because in K-12, there is more monitoring of the teachers, an approved curriculum that must be followed, there are parent teacher interviews to be conducted, constant student and teacher assessment, follow ups, no fail policies, etc. In university, it is very different. I've been in courses where there have been three assignments in total to judge if a student is successful. And what happens to the student who disagrees with their professor? Or who is not a great writer but a great speaker? Bad marks, the opportunity of advancement denied, a career change, a path not taken.

I'm ok with student mutiny. I am ok with exploring areas that were not planned. So for me, the sooner professors learn to be a guide at the side of their students (an old elementary teacher strategy from the late 90's) instead of the sage on the stage the better off I think all higher education institutions will be.