I recently had the chance to share with students completing their student teaching some of the things I have garnered throughout my career that have served to inform my teaching. It was satisfying to be able to pull together these thoughts. The ensuing discussion was rewarding. I hope to capture them in a series of blog entries.
During college, I left the inner city Augsburg college campus to spend two summers guiding canoe trips at Wilderness Canoe Base in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. There were two types of guides. While traveling with one type, you were gifted with a wonderfully narrated trip. He would be sure to point out the majesty and grandeur that he saw. We would be told to keep our eyes peeled on the south shore as we would come around the point ahead – lest you miss the dramatic outcrop of granite erupting from the shoreline. Indeed as we turned the corner, we looked, and, yes, it was beautiful. Yet, somehow the discovery felt flat. Perhaps it was because it wasn’t a discovery at all. Very little of those trips greeted us with surprise. It was present for the guide, but the joy of discovery was taken away for the campers.
Another type of guide had been there too and knew the grandeur awaiting. Yet, he quietly paddled along with the group. Perhaps a gentle, “Let’s get closer to shore”, but then a return to quiet. Inside, he was in eager anticipation for the excitement of discovery awaiting his campers, but his outward emotions would not show it. With this guide, as we rounded the corner, our mouths dropped open in awe as we beheld the beauty, pointing and shouting in joy. Sitting quietly back in the canoe, he would gently smile, sharing in the joy of discovery. This guide may have seen this sight a thousand times, but with us, he acted as if it were the most amazing discovery anyone had ever found. I wanted to be this type of guide. I wanted to let my campers own the joy of discovery.
A similar construct exists in the classroom. We plan our lessons weeks in advance, lessons we may have done hundreds of times with thousands of students. We know what is coming, yet we need to let our students own the joy of discovery, of learning, for themselves. When the kindergartner comes into the classroom on a spring day with a bouquet of dandelions, a gifted teacher gets down on his knees, looks the child in the eyes, and together they delight in the beauty of the flower and the joy of sharing. For that child, this was a magical moment of sharing a simple gift of beauty with a caring adult. This the kind of teacher I want to be.
Lesson two: The journey belongs to the student. Let the student own the joy. Know when it is time to remain a bystander.