What I realized after I began teaching was that my self-directedness as a student isn't an automatic development in all students. It is something that has to be cultivated by providing students with opportunities to be self-directed, as well as offering encouragement and advice and asking probing questions that require higher levels of cognitive complexity. Ultimately, you have to create an environment where failure is acceptable as long as you learn from it, taking risks is encouraged, and exploration and creativity is expected. You have to realize that there is more than one way to solve a problem or arrive at a correct answer, and you need to be willing to accept and respect these alternate routes. This reminds me of a student I had who I can definitely say made me into a better teacher.
David is an incredibly smart student, and this always reflected in his perfect grades and his ability to easily take what he was taught and make real-world and cross-curricular connections. Fortunately for me, he absolutely loved science! It was nearing the end of the first quarter and I was beginning to teach stoichiometry, which involves a lot of math conversions. I went through my instruction, providing numerous examples and was still getting what I had come to refer to as my bug-eyed gazers. Their eyes were wide open, staring intently, but they were completely lost. All of a sudden, David raises his hand and says, "Mrs. G, can I give it a try?" I was taken aback but curious to see what he was going to do. Before letting him take over the class, however, I needed to see what he had done. I didn't need more confusion in the classroom! So I looked over his work, smiled, and handed over my teacher reins. He had solved it in a way that was so simple. It was, perhaps, the same way that I had been taught so many years ago, however, I had adapted it to fit my own understanding, which clearly was not working for my students.
After David's instructions, the rest of the class needed very little help. They had grasped a concept in a single class period that had taken my students in previous years several days to grasp. I can truly say that this was a transformational moment for me as a teacher. I had always had the mindset that there were numerous ways to solve a problem, and no one way was better than another, it was just which one worked best for the learner. So why was I being so prescriptive in teaching my content??? From that point forward, I made an effort to either teach a concept in more than one way, or to design it in such a way that the students uncover the solution that works best for them. I also realized that I needed to provide more opportunities for my students to be leaders. The more they teach others, the better they will learn and the more we will see that "growth mindset" where students are taking responsibility for their learning and extending it beyond what we could ever teach them. As I wrap up this reflection, I am reminded of a podcast I listened to in which they were interviewing Angela Maiers. She pretty much summed up what I would say about this journey back into my classroom: "Have a commitment to curiosity. We have this untapped genius in our presence that is just waiting to be liberated."