I want to be irrelevant.
I mean, some of my students think I already am. I’m a teacher, after all – what could I possibly have to offer them? If I knew anything about the real world, they think – or sometimes say, in blunter language – I’d be in it, not at school.
I explain that they’re halfway there. I want them not to need me. I want to be irrelevant to their lives. I want them to move on. Because isn’t that what teaching is all about? I believed this when I started, and I’m only more convinced now I’m a parent as well as a more experienced educator. The whole point of me teaching my students (and my sons, too) is that some day they won’t need teaching any more.
I know they’ll not have learned everything I know. It’s not that it would be hard, but some of the lessons are ones that can’t be taught, only learned. They come from your own cock-ups, from over-sleeping when you meant to be up early, from failing to double-check you’d copied that file to your USB stick. They’re the memory that lingers after everyone else has forgotten, knowing that we could have done something better, or that staying up all night didn’t really make a difference in the long run.
It’s not just being able to ‘think like a scientist’. I mean, I want them to understand the beautiful simplicity, the elegance of the scientific method. I want them to question, to be sceptical, to test their ideas and improve their understanding. Like every teacher, a lot of what I teach them isn’t about my subject. They keep changing the names, but the idea of ‘key skills’ is something that’s in education to stay. And that’s good. I don’t expect my students to know absolutely everything; not that it’s especially challenging with the current syllabus… but I digress. Of course they need factual knowledge, but I want them to have skills too. I want them to be able to work as part of a team, and be creative, and to assess their own understanding, and all the other ‘Learning2Learn’ stuff that good teachers always did before it had a name. Mine did it. (Thanks, Mr Brock.) But the point of all of these things is that they’re learning how to be people, to be independent – to not need us as teachers.
Facts are easy. It’s not hard to impress a questioning student with facts when you’re a teacher with a reasonable memory. Real learning starts when a student listens to me when I say, “That’s a good question; I don’t know either. How are we going to figure it out?” At some point, one day in a lesson or one evening sat at home, I want all of my students to think the same thing. “I don’t need him.” Some will think it with a smile, and some with a snarl. But if they’re right, if between my teaching and their learning I really am irrelevant now…
…then I’ve done my job.
Many educators are taking the time to write their own ideas about the purpose of education in around 500 words, inspired by Purpos/ed. This is my effort. Like all others involved, the point is to start a debate, not to talk to ourselves. Comments?