Sunday, April 27, 2008

Learning How to Teach

Earlier this month, I learned how to teach my daughter how to ride a bike.

We worked backwards. First, we made sure we knew how to work the brakes. Then we learned how to maintain balance. Finally, we learned know how to make a standing start. Put it together, and you have an end-to-end ride.

She tattooed two brick walls, a fence and a shrub on her first day with a low, even, prime number of wheels. She didn’t immediately recognise what it is she was learning with each passing impact.... er., experience, so she needed a bit of coaching. She also needed some encouragement to get back on the metal-and-plastic horse. But get back on she did, and her maiden voyage from start to (intentional) stop is now in the books.

In learning how to teach a subject, we increase our own mastery, giving us as teachers the potential to learn as much as our students from the act of knowledge transfer. But teaching offers even greater possibilities. Sometimes our students surpass our own knowledge, and become the masters from whom we learn. While this may be upside for the teacher, this is not necessarily an easy transition for the student. They may find it difficult to cope with the change in role-state, struggling to cope without defined boundaries. Rather than evolve into a master, the student may rebel or drift because they are not properly prepared for this change.

We hope that our children's capabilities will surpass our own. For that to happen, we must pay attention to more than just their tacical execution: we must also be situationally aware enough to recognise when they have outgrown us as teachers. This allows us to change that aspect of our relationship so that even if we’re in their wake as executors, we remain sufficiently engaged with them as they carry on their journey into undiscovered country.

Although she had a difficult first day, she couldn’t spend enough time with her bike on the second. May she direct it on many voyages of discovery.