Friday, April 24, 2015

Why I Teach

This post is a response to the prompt Why I Teach?

John Spencer recently wrote, "I encourage creativity because it matters - not to the world or to the future or to the economy, but to the students. Right now. In this moment, it matters. And it matters because we are naturally creators. We are makers. It's part of what makes us human."

What a powerful reminder.

When I'm at my best as an educator I don't teach to prepare my students for this year's standardized test. When I'm at my best I don't inspire students to learn something they might need to know later.  When I'm at my best I am not prepping my students for university. When I'm at my best I am not readying students for jobs that don't exist yet.

When I'm at my best I empower students to be the creators of their own history starting in the very moment. When I'm at my best I'm teaching with, and learning from, the human being right in front of me. In the present.

This is why I teach.

Last year, my students worked through 20% time each week. I had the privileged of facilitating student driven learning. Students got to learn what they wanted to learn. They dove deep into content that mattered to them, developed passion projects, set goals, failed, picked up the pieces, and presented to their peers.

I originally justified 20% time as a way to prepare my students for the future. I passionately advocated for 20% time as a opportunity for students to develop skills that would make them attractive employees later in life. Students needed 20% time. Their future depended on it. 

In reality, 20% time had more to do with the present than some undefined future. The individual talents, experiences, and wishes of the students were valued. This mattered to them. Students looked forward to this time every week. 20% time gave them a chance to be themselves, not some future caricature of 21st century success. They were creators, teachers, learners, and discovers. As Spencer writes, "They’re not thinking about a job that doesn’t exist. They’re thinking about the joy of making stuff."

That's why I teach.

One of my students, "Haley", wanted to do something with the Makey-Makey. Haley wanted to challenge herself. She wanted to expand her knowledge of code and electronics. Haley found a blog post using the Makey-Makey to create an "Operation" type game. She decided to use her 20% time to make a Makey-Makey "Operation" game. Each and every week, she grabbed the Makey-Makey off my desk, read different blogs, and tried various designs. Haley dragged her dad to Home Depot to buy copper wire and her own wire cutters. She was going to figure it out.

Haley asked for help, pushed through frustrations, and asked her classmates to collaborate. Haley came to me with problems and challenged me to find solutions. After weeks of effort, she ran to show me her game. It worked.

When Haley presented her game to the class, nothing else mattered. The class was in the zone. Haley beamed with pride. Time stood still. Nobody worried about the report cards sitting on my desk. Nobody was bored. Nobody asked about the future. Nobody asked if this was going to be on the test.

Instead, the class cheered and shared high fives. Everyone was happy to be in this moment, in the present. That is why I teach.

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