“Teaching, like parenting, is, for much of the day, automatic […] ‘It doesn’t matter what you think you’re going to tell them. What matters is they’re right there watching you every minute'” (pg. 76-77).
Like Trace Adkins’ song “Watching You”, this chapter was a reminder that my students are constantly watching the way I act, speak, and interact whether I am aware of it or not. Johnston points out in this chapter that ultimately “if we want to change our words, we need to change our views” (pg. 84). Johnston shows that the way we speak to different people – from babies to dogs to our students – shows “what we think they are and what we think we are doing with them” (pg. 78).
There are so many different things that can characterize our students when we just skim the surface: their academic performance, home-life and background, personality, adherence to routine, and the list can go on and on. But even looking at all of these traits, I would have missed the mark on truly knowing my students. Doing so requires not only being “genuinely interested in what they had to say, but […] learning what in their lives mattered and what could become relevant for them” (pg. 78).
This is what truly lies at the core of teaching and I finally feel myself taking a step back from all of the assessments we have to give, all of the standards my kids have to master, all of the best practices that I’ve been trained in, and I am thinking more about who my students are as people, who I am even apart from being their teacher, and how we can all learn how to better understand ourselves and others and to discover our meaningfulness.
Helping our students become part of a democratic society comes first through modeling for them the way that we value all ideas and that we view them as equals on this learning quest. “We need to learn how to construct or become involved in learning communities so that we extend our own development” (pg. 65). The term “we” here is key. “‘We’ is an invitation to and expression of solidarity or affinity” (pg. 66). Part of enabling students involves helping them discover the way that they in collaboration with their peers unlocks knowledge without having to be given it by their teacher. “We must learn to use the diversity of experience and perspective and intellectual resources to solve the problems that arise in democratic living, but also to ratchet forward our own intellectual development” (pg. 74).
My job as a teacher is not to impart knowledge on my students but rather to enable them to discover it through themselves and others. It is “getting [them] to understand that they have something to say, and that engaging with others is in their own developmental interests in terms of what they can learn about the world and about themselves as learners, and the thoughts they can entertain” (pg. 83). It is also reflecting myself on how I view my students and changing my views so that in turn my words change.
This book has taught me more than anything else that words hold tremendous power. My goal for the remainder of this year is to be conscious and thoughtful about the words I use with my students, with their parents, with other teachers and staff, and even with those outside of the world of teaching. And as I reflected in a previous post, sometimes that thoughtfulness means not using any words at all.