In a three part series, I had laid out my brief journey of how I define my purpose as a teacher. In part three, I stated that my main goal, the one that keeps me coming back day after day, year after year, is to create free and independent thinkers.
Another purpose of maintaining a blog was to document interesting phenomenon as it occurred. I have several years of bound up frustration that I want to share with the world, but I want to record events as they happen, while they are fresh in my mind.
Recently I had one of those class periods where several students were out for a field trip at the end of an already grueling week, making for a period that the remaining students were pretty lackluster in their desire for mental exertion. We did a little review and then began talking. We started talking physics and one of the girls in class chimed in that she felt like she was only able to do the examples in class, that she need formulas to be able to accomplish the exercises. Here is roughly how our exchange went.
Me: “Why don’t you make up some problems?”
Another Student: “That’s what I did.”
Her: “I don’t know how.”
I go to the board draw a little scenario. We start messing around with the problem. One of the students puts up a formula involving the square of final velocity and gravity. We are hung up on the use of acceleration due to gravity and how it would affect projectile motion. Bell rings, but I am still intrigued by the problem. Luckily, she usually stays in my room during the next class and I keep going back to the problem every so often. Eventually I come to the conclusion that the acceleration due to gravity is unnecessary.
Her: “I said that a long time ago.”
She was right, she did, but we had discounted it at the time. That, and she didn’t state that gravity was not needed she ASKED if gravity was needed. When she asked she is admitting that she wasn’t sure. She is admitting that she doesn’t want to support her idea. She is looking for me to support her idea because if I do it she can remember that she is right and never has to find a reason why her idea was right. She is granting me the power and authority of knowledge and admitting weakness.
I dismissed her because I didn’t know better. She stopped because I didn’t affirm her. What should have happened was that she would have challenged my dismissal and forced me to see how her idea was correct. She is acting as a microcosm of how school functions for many of our students. Too many of our students seek the approval of their ideas from an external source (teachers) rather than reason out the correctness of their ideas for themselves.
That’s my goal though, to rectify that scenario. Every time a student leaves my care answering every question with a question, seeking that approval, I feel like I have failed. Every time a student leaves my class feeling good about their grade, but not sure of what they know, I feel like I have failed. I want my students to be able to confidently answer questions, to reason the answers for themselves. My students should eventually view me as a resource, but not a necessity.
Maybe this isn’t such a good goal. Is it really a great idea to make myself unnecessary?