Back to the Basics – Shoes Included

I love beginnings. I really do – fresh faces, fresh approaches, fresh pens, fresh undies. Let’s be honest here – new underwear and socks are THE DEAL.

The school year began two weeks ago and I finally caught a breath to reflect upon this newest beginning, to sit down and do some writing about my thinking over the summer, my thinking about the upcoming school year, my thinking about my children, my thinking about retiring (not me, but a mentor), most of all my thinking about getting back to the basics.

As I sit in my office and look out my window I see overcast skies, green evergreens gently waving in the cool breeze, and our stately Campanile. The beginning of the school year is forever nostalgic, but this year it strikes me even moreso. Maybe it’s because I’m aging, maybe it’s because I’ve finally moved into the comfort zone of teaching. I lovingly refer to this zone as the “I hardly wear heels anymore’ phase.

I look at the new faces in my classroom and think about what promise they have. This generation of students. This generation – the generation that have the birth year of my high school graduation. Wow. Just wow. Is this what middle-age does to a person? Does it make you think about where you’ve been and where you are going (in flats, no less)?

Possibly. Before school began this year we had a wonderful speaker, Dr. Maryellen Weimer, (check out her blog at http://www.facultyfocus.com/topic/articles/teaching-professor-blog/) come for our fall faculty workshop. She was invigorating, she was enthralling – she was everything right about having teaching as your passion (at least in my opinion). I often felt like she jumped into my soul and was simply using her own copy/paste function from my brain to her words. She wore flats.

It’s Not About You, I’m not sure she said this – but it’s the major concept that I took. It’s Not About Me. That resonated with me. While I wouldn’t classify myself as selfish (I love taking care of others…so I have a hard time thinking about me).

While we all have an impact on the lives of students, the truth is that they are their own person. We can help to influence, help to shape…but in the end, the choice is their own. The choice to listen. The choice to learn. The choice to act. It is just one of the many reasons it takes a village. It’s the reason that some students major in business while others become artisans. It’s the reason that my classes (in Communication Studies) giggle when I refer to the culture in the business building. Walk straight. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t smile. Don’t laugh. Don’t hug. And for goodness sake, don’t wear anything but khaki, navy, white, and black – and certainly not anything without a collar.

Sorry business folks…I’m sure you have some fun at our ‘free love,’ full of color, loud, and obnoxiousness. What is the result of this?

While I may influence one student, another can’t stand me.

I can’t take that personally…because it’s not really about me.

Whatever my students do not learn…it’s not about me.
Likewise
Whatever my students do learn…it’s not about me.

Of course what is most interesting is that teachers LOVE to take credit for their excelling students, but not so much the failing student. Really though, all we can do it provide an atmosphere that supports their growth and development, the rest is up to them.

So, what’s different about my teaching this year? Well, if it is a student’s choice to listen, learn, and to act then I need to ‘teach’ them to have passion for learning. More than anything else….to create an environment where passion for learning, listening, acting, and experiencing rises above all else. More focus on just that. Less of me, more of them. Trust me, it’s a hard switch. I am a performer – and I love making them laugh, I love watching their eyes stare intently at me, I love coaching them through a conversation full of self discovery.

But…I’ve already found that less of me and more of them is better. While my teaching has always been learner-centered, I’m making it even more intentional. It’s fun. It’s a whole lotta fun…like so much fun that I’m sitting, staring at this screen with wide-eyes and a big smile. It’s like merging Montessori concepts into a University classroom. Seriously, holy moley it’s fun.

This new generation – this is the deal. I’m telling you – they are good stuff. They are great stuff. Give them space and freedom. Allow them to learn without barriers. Allow them to dig in. Give them tough questions. Back away. See what they are capable of.

Coach their learning…the pontification is over. Why? Student’s don’t really care how smart I am or what I know. Honestly? Neither do I. I continue to learn and read and know and wonder and question – but for me. Teachers may have encouraged me, but it was ultimately me. I wanted to know more.

What students do care about is immersion. They don’t care what’s in a book. They want to know how it affects their life.

Thank the Lord. For real. Thank the Lord. This isn’t a generation of useless knowledge…it’s a generation of changing lives through knowledge.

So, now when I teach I take off my flats. I feel the ‘earth,’ I wonder, I hum, I wander, I say yes!, I get excited, I let them teach me…I need to wear athletic shorts because I get so fired up about their own learning!

Feels good to be back to the basics….in my flats.

P.S.You’ll still see me in heels – just know those are the days I have to meet with the grown ups who have lost focus of why they began teaching.  That education and true learning comes only as much as you can take off your shoes and relax enough to just ‘let it happen.’

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