When the Student Becomes the Master
It wasn’t until a student let me know (extremely regretfully, I might add) that he needed to choose to study for an important test over attending class, that I finally got the picture. Teachers are awesome – I can think of three professors right off the top of my head that have impacted my life in incredible ways – but they don’t have magical formulas that can turn students into genies (that’s the plural of genius, right?). They, or maybe I should start saying we, try our hardest, but a major portion of the learning responsibility rests on our students and sometimes, they choose to pursue something that they are motivated to achieve, even if it isn’t something a teacher may have directed them to at first.
As a teacher, rather than a student, during this Interterm (I’m teaching a vocabulary class in the Intensive English Learning Program for the Chinese students), I love seeing the other side of the fence. I have long known about intrinsic motivation, autonomy, mastery, all that jazz; I guess I just didn’t really understand it. Now, I am having daily experiences of watching students take hold of their own learning. It’s humbling – and really cool – to learn that education is not a Show-and-Tell exercise, in which the teacher is person of the day. It’s really not. It’s an endeavor to excel, made on the part of every student who desires to grow.
Of course, not all students in the world are motivated like we teachers might hope that they are. Sometimes it’s disappointing, or discouraging. I think what I’m learning (and the lesson may be way off base, remember, I’m nowhere near an expert) is that the load isn’t entirely on the teacher to create a fantastic learner out of every student they encounter. They do take some responsibility, but mostly, it’s on the student. And, it’s extremely important to note, that every student has the potential. Every student.
Watching the students that do take responsibility for their learning – watching them excel, guiding them through messy grammar rules and confusing semantics – is a humbling and exciting experience. Even though I’m not a student at Greenville College anymore, I’m still learning every day.