I don't know if it was my own education that got me to this point in life, or whether my ability to make sense of things is in spite of it.
One of my pet dislikes (and it happens often enough) is being asked about an influential teacher who was important in my learning. The assumption is that every articulate, independent thinking person with some measure of success must have had someone who lit the fire, who made the learning in school come alive. And most people in education can name at least one such person. Many will cite that person as being the reason for taking up teaching as a career.
But not me. I can't name one teacher who I would put above the crowd. Some were better than average, and a lot struggled to even remember who I was. I suppose I like to think that my teaching style and methodology is based on what that fictional teacher would have been like. But that does not automatically translate that I've become the "one teacher" for anyone else. Well, no one has told me that. A few ex-students have told me that they have fond memories of being in my class, but that's about it. Yet I like to believe that I've been a successful teacher, and that I now have something worthwhile to bring to the table as a leader.
So, there is a bit of an unwritten assumption that as a student moves through the education system, they will invariably encounter their own "one teacher" who will flip the switch and light the pathway to educational success. There is also an assumption that following that educational pathway also equals learning. I read plenty of smart people who believe that the system as it currently exists is broken and needs radical re-thinking, that it can't be fixed from within and that tinkering around the edges doesn't really help the disengaged and disadvantaged. Technology really does challenge how learning can occur - but maybe the system limits those possibilities to just digitising age old pedagogies.
I don't know. There are plenty of times when I'm not sure what to believe when it comes to learning within the paradigm of education.
But I do know this. Those of us who connect, put out our still-green ideas in blogs, tweets and comments, who have taken the time to explore and play in the many spaces of the web have an immense advantage over those who do not. The challenge is how do we move the spark of learning away from being dependent on one person provided by an institution, to being self provided. Learning how to learn has become a huge buzz phrase - and I sense many educators are a bit afraid of the concept of self motivated learners because in some ways it threatens the age old concept of teacher. But on the internet I get "taught" every day by people who freely offer opinions, advice and experiences of their own. They don't have me as their "student", and they don't have the responsibility of "assessing" my learning, but I learn from them at my own pace as time permits and as my interest deepens.
So, what does that look like to kids at the primary school level?
All I can say is that I envy those of you who have strong beliefs about what exactly should be happening to education in this country, because there are times when I feel like I have no idea. Like the cliche says, the more I learn about anything, the more I realise how little I really know.
I hade a great teacher in high school who coincidentally and ironically had the name “Mrs Bland” but she was anything but. Back when all we used was text books and dictation she brought the television into the class and showed us “Roots” during American History lessons. She was brilliant. But she didn’t make me want to be a teacher, she made me love history. And she validated TV as a text.
I like the ironic name of Mrs Bland. I just know that this is a popular meme used at South Australian PD sessions with the assumption that someone MUST have inspired us all to get into teaching.
Well said. I’ve run into this at PD sessions also, and like you, I have no memory of a singular teacher who moved or inspired me. If anything, I can come up with numerous counter-examples – people who bored, humiliated, or terrorized me. And come to think of it, maybe those were my influential teachers. It’s hard to say how I ever got to be one, but it might have something to do with wanting to make it better for someone else.
Cultivate the don’t-know mind, and learn to listen to it. Everyone you encounter will benefit from your good example.
Thank you for providing such an insightful and thought stimulating topic. I was especially drawn to your statement “The challenge is how do we move the spark of learning away from being dependent on one person provided by an institution, to being self provided. Learning how to learn has become a huge buzz phrase – and I sense many educators are a bit afraid of the concept of self motivated learners because in some ways it threatens the age old concept of teacher. But on the internet I get “taught” every day by people who freely offer opinions, advice and experiences of their own. They don’t have me as their “student”, and they don’t have the responsibility of “assessing” my learning, but I learn from them at my own pace as time permits and as my interest deepens” Graham Wegner, personal communication, April 2012.
Like you, I do not recall a singular teacher igniting a passion for me to learn or to pursue higher education. I do, however, recall a 9th grade algebra teacher that FINALLY got me to grasp algebraic equations, and to lose my fear of math related concepts. Here I am completing the second year of my doctoral degree, and I don’t recall a single teacher in high school addressing me beyond the standard “are you going to college?” or “You need to go to college in order to get a good job.” As an African-American male that grew up in poverty in a single parent tenement in the inner city (raised by my father), I don’t believe that the expectation for me to accomplish more than just being able to somehow, someway “make it” to a college (on a wing and a prayer) was ever a realistic expectation of any of my teachers. Yet, here I am, proudly completing my fourth degree, and a terminal degree at that. Moreover, I have become an educator myself (of adult students), and I always keep that thought uppermost in my mind when I am standing before and providing education for impressionable young men and women.
In retrospect, I feel like I am one of the self-motivated learners that you alluded to in your blog statement. I consistently took the time (and continue to do so) to educate myself on extremely diverse topics and educational tidbits. On my own, and on my own initiative, I learned conversational French, Spanish, Hangeul (Korean) and a little Deutsch (German). I taught myself about international wines, famous paintings, the stock market, classical music, and foreign customs and traditions. I became a voracious self-motivated learner. I educated myself without the aid of external motivation, coercion, or monetary gain. I simply realized during the course of my life that I wanted to learn. I wanted to be knowledgeable. I wanted to be able to hold an interesting and informed conversation with most anyone that I met. So, you are correct Graham, the Internet and access to endless information is a future threat to the single point of learning currently known as the teacher. I hope that individuals learn to harness the power of useful knowledge that is available on the internet and through technology. I certainly have. Thank you once again Graham!
Graham WegnerPost author
Virgil, thank you for telling me your story as a learner. I wonder though if there is a quality in common with all self directed learners that not all people possess – or we would see more people forging their own path through life. What do you think?
Thank you for your response to my post. Graham, I am of the personal opinion that self-directed learners do indeed possess a gene, a drive, a desire, and an insatiable lust for learning. Being a self-directed learner also means being self-motivated. It means being inquisitive. It means not simply settling for what you were “taught” in school. Moreover, it means that an individual is not simply willing to settle for a rote system of learning. This is bolstered by the term “Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) is self-directed learning. In a sense, autodidacticism is “learning on your own” or “by yourself”, and an autodidact is a self-teacher”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autodidacticism).
Pioneers, innovators, dreamers, visionaries, and titans of industry…all tend to be self-directed learners. They don’t simply shrug their shoulders and say “this is just how things are”, they are bold and daring, and they loudly proclaim to the world “This is how it can be.” This all grows from the seed of being a motivated self-directed learner…this is HOW these innovative and influential individuals have forged their own paths in life.
An illustration of the positive outcomes of being a self-directed learner follows “Autodidactism is only one facet of learning, and is usually complemented by learning in formal and informal spaces: from classrooms to other social settings. Many autodidacts seek instruction and guidance from experts, friends, teachers, parents, siblings, and community. Inquiry into autodidacticism has implications for learning theory, educational research, educational philosophy, and educational psychology” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autodidacticism. With this in mind Graham, I would have to proclaim that self-directed learners are indeed the true “movers and shakers” in larger society.
I had a mechanic teacher whom I think ignited my passion for learning and sharing information. He showed us the basics and required a lot of hours beyond the curriculum to work with machines, electrical circuits, and welding. In those extra hours I learned a lot by myself, observing others doing things I needed to improve myself doing,etc. I began to see a need to share my knowledge by coaching others when I get the chance.