This year I designed and completed an independent study to explore a particular question: What is teaching? For my project, I visited seven classes in a variety of different subjects aiming to discover more about the teachers’ classroom decisions and the reasons behind them. As a result of this project, I discovered that teaching is not only about transferring content, but also about imparting skills that can be used in any endeavor. I believe these skills and ways of thinking are just as important as content knowledge, and I encourage all students to focus more on developing these skills and less on finding the correct answer.
In particular, one teacher that I worked with who changed my view on teaching and learning was history teacher Kim Young. Like many of the teachers I worked with, Young emphasized that the students further the learning, while the teacher provides a framework for that learning.
“Students are the ones who are discovering and acquiring knowledge on their own. I am trying to create activities and learning scenarios where students discover and learn themselves. Students are driving the learning and the teacher facilitates,” Young said.
Echoing Young’s sentiments, these two common roles of the teacher and of the student are essential in every classroom to achieve a shared goal. The teacher creates the classroom environment, facilitates learning, and conveys information. In turn, the student works to process and apply the course content, while also practicing skills to use in and out of the classroom.
“As teachers we are developing the global citizens of today. Our students are going to become the next decision makers, so if I just teach them to memorize information, they will not be able to make a decision while in power,” Young said.
While learning more about these roles, I intentionally changed my perspective to that of a student observing teaching methods. As I no longer focused on content or grades, I realized all of the things teachers were sharing.
In discussing my changed perspective on the process of learning, history teacher Moncrieff Cochran emphasized the need to clarify classroom expectations.
“I think that you want to have a good discussion about how things work and why. Why am I doing three chapters and then an exam? Why am I expecting you to participate? Anything about the course and how it should be managed is important information to discuss with students,” Cochran said.
Ultimately, I realized how teachers help students learn how to learn, and discovered ways that I can be a better student. It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on grades instead of the skills that apply outside of the classroom. I have learned that classes give students the chance to practice these skills, even if they are not specifically stated. I encourage all students to focus less on grades and answers, and more on the opportunity to learn and grow.