I have learned as a teacher that students enter the classroom with an expectation that I will teach them something that they need to know as they journey towards a degree. I say that I will ‘teach” them something rather that they expect to “learn” something because I have found that their expectations are that if they will listen to me, the classroom will become a place where learning will occur. Looking back on my own education, I understand why they feel this way. Most of my time in classrooms was spent listening to the teacher. It was a pretty straight forward method of instruction that seemed to get the job done—after all, I did manage to get through school, which was the point, I guess.
But now I believe the point has to be more than that. Now as a teacher and not as a student, I go into the classroom and think, “What is it that I can do today that will cause these students to learn this lesson without my firm hand on the rudder? I suppose if the dean heard that he might begin to wonder why they are paying me…. But it is what I think works best: the students have the potential to learn more in a classroom where much of the class time is unscripted than they can from my binder of old worn lecture notes. I accept that I must do something productive in the classroom, so to that end I throw out topics, ideas, theories, often purposely distorting them, letting them crash and bang provocatively against the four stoic walls of the classroom, and then I sit back and listen, moving the rudder ever so slightly here and there to keep the ship going in the right direction….
The bottom line for me is this: never underestimate the abilities students have to steer the boat on a new and adventurous—and educational–course. If I always steer the boat, the boat will go only where I want it to go. It will not go into those uncharted waters that the students want to discover and explore if given the chance. On some days the boat should certainly dock safely, and on those days I keep the rudder firmly in my hands…but on many more days I want the boat to rock and lurch wildly, smashing into rocks here and there, as it charges towards who knows where. Hang on!
It takes courage on those days to keep my hands off the rudder.