Monday, December 17, 2012

The Teacher-Learner

Last time, I noted that I would like to see the line between teacher and learner be eliminated completely. Is that just idealistic musing?

For one thing, I'm being paid to be in the room and that brings certain responsibilities: ensuring a safe and respectful place to meet, facilitating access to civics knowledge and language-improvement, and taking action to foster desired attendance and gains outcomes. But I would argue that the learners take on these same responsibilities when they sign on to the class. If a learner has poor attendance, does not take steps toward improvement, does not support and respect others, is a distraction, or threatens our safety then I may ask that person to leave. And if there were no line between us, the learner would also has the power to ask for my dismissal, if necessary. My agency does have a grievance policy in place. Is it clear? Would a learner feel comfortable using it? (These are rhetorical questions, not comments on our particular policy.)

Where else do I draw a line between myself and the learners that may not be necessary? I commented in a recent post that when I promote life skills such as goal-setting or technology-readiness, I should buy into those myself. That doesn't mean that I have to be an expert, by any means! But I do think I should be as willing to learn as I expect my learners to be.

Kids studying in Bolivia

Let's take technology-readiness. Like it or not, it's now a critical component of literacy education. If I tell a learner "this is very important" but don't show interest in improving my own skills, I'm drawing a line. With the aid of materials prepared by someone else, I might be an OK "guide on the side", and I might even learn some! But I'd rather sit side-by-side as equally-interested explorers. I would bring strengths to this deal, because I can model other skills such as goal-setting, collaboration, critical thinking, resiliency, etc. And let's not forget English skills! At the same time, it's very possible that a learner will bring knowledge that I want to know more about. (Santa may bring me a smart phone this year -- some of my learners who don't have computers are quite experienced with their smart phones!)

There's another place where I have drawn a line in the past. I have typically thought of my own development in terms of reflection, reading, discussion with peers and taking workshops or courses. I mean, sure, the experience of teaching constantly informs my learning, and I do try new things in my lessons. But when I'm in the classroom, I'm thinking mostly of the learners learning. Our lesson plan format (which is pretty typical) is in alignment with this thinking. It has a small space at the bottom for reflection, but that's to be done after the lesson and is open-ended.

These days, we're being asked to do "job-embedded professional development". In short, it shifts to a local PD effort directed by learning groups and individual teachers and driven by data collected in the classrooms.* When I first learned about it, all I could think of was budget cuts -- no money for PD classes and workshops! But with more reflection, I see this as an opportunity to erase that line between learner and teacher.

I believe that change comes slowly over most organizations. A full-blown JEPD program includes collaboration between teachers and other support outside the classroom. In my organization there are steps being taken toward this goal, but there are also many impediments, not the least of which are part-time teachers working far apart from each other with little extra time for meetings. But in the meantime, there are things that an individual teacher can do in the classroom. Action research** is a process which can be used to examine both student performance and my own (there goes the line!). What if I were completely transparent about this effort as I taught? Would learners be more willing to give me honest feedback about whether their needs are being met, as well as what they liked or didn't like about our activities? That's more data for the benefit of all. How would I change my lesson plan format to incorporate this thinking? This is not a rhetorical (display) question, I really am asking myself. If you have comments or suggestions, please share!

* Research on Professional Development and Teacher Change: Implications for Adult Basic Education (PDF) by Smith and Gillespie contrasts traditional PD and JEPD.

**A very helpful book on action research is Reflective Teaching in Second Language Classrooms by Jack C. Richards (now available online!). I also learned some nitty-gritty about gathering data, analyzing it and making changes in a course called Breaking Rules at I hear it will be offered again, so keep an eye open for it!

No comments:

Post a Comment