January 18, 2012

Learning - Journey Vs. Destination

My first day of student teaching was exciting. I entered my classroom with my master teacher and was as bright and bushy tailed as any student teacher ever could be. I was 23 years old and ready to change the world. What I didn't realize at the time is that I didn't need to change the world. I needed to teach/encourage my students to do that.

The most vivid memory of my credential program was sitting down and looking at the curriculum pacing guide for the first time. It was TERRIFYING. And, if I was that scared of it, as a college graduate, I could only imagine how my 10th grade English students would feel if they knew what we were trying to cram into their brains.

It was a time in education when I believed that what really mattered were the results, not the journey. We had lessons each day and I needed to see how successful, or unsuccessful, those lessons were in teaching the students the noted standards. It didn't matter what happened in between, only the end. But, that's never true - as I understand now. Really, when it came down to it, it was about my success, not theirs.

Here's the difference now. Yes, the end result does matter, but not as much as the journey in getting there. If I have a student who turns in something that is the best that they can do, but is not as good as another student, that is still a HUGE victory. They tried their best and because of that, they know how far they can go and they can push the envelope the next time. Everyone has their limits.  I remember one of my favorite students, Oscar, explaining to me that nothing in the class we learned mattered, he was merely repeating 10th grade English, as a 12th grader, because he got lazy two years ago. More proof that the journey mattered. It didn't matter that he was one of the smartest students that I had ever met. All that mattered was that he sidetracked himself and now had to make an extra stop along the way.

This morning I had an interesting encounter. A former student, from the last school year, came to me complaining that I had not taught a preposition song. She was upset because she was unable to pass a test on prepositions in her current English class. I'm thinking about this more now because it's another focus on the destination, not the journey. She forgot how our class came together to try to find a realistic and student centered end to bullying. She forgot how we created in depth and extended writing projects that challenged their self images and expectations for writing. She forgot how she did an AMAZING job writing a slam poem and delivering it in front of our class to uproarious applause. She's still focused on the destination - the test that she didn't pass.

I'm here to teach students to keep moving, to keep trying, to keep adventuring - learning. I'm not here to teach them how to pass a test. Where do you go from there??? I wish that I had realized this all those years ago, but I'm glad that I do now.

I would like to apologize to that student who failed their test - I'm sorry. But, now that you have failed, do you know what to do next?

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