As a parent with young children one thing is crystal clear, kids are relentlessly curious creatures. They want to know everything about everything with an insatiable thirst. As a child makes discoveries about the world around her, she learns to speak with some degree of intelligibility and can now express her needs. Curiosity is a necessity.
As we meet our college freshman, many of us commiserate their lack of passion. Where is the joy in discovery? They find the art of learning to be drudgery. But if we are honest with ourselves, we too have lost our sense of curiosity for anything outside our immediate circles of interest; we too would rather not leave the safe boundaries of our department’s office suite. This ought to give us understanding and perspective on how we treat our students.
How then do we instill a thirst for knowledge in ourselves and in our students? How can we bring a sense of joyful curiosity into the classroom? I can confidently say, without a doubt, and with great conviction, that I do not know; however, here is how I try.
Passion is infectious. If I can show my great love for a topic, my students will often find themselves attracted to the same aspects that first attracted me. Teach like a charismatic magnet and pull your students into the circle of learning. Likewise, I want to allow their passion to infect me, and then bring those passions into the class. This of course only really works if someone already has a propensity for passion. If this were my sole responsibility as a teacher, we could just give passionate learners library cards and let them lose.
Teach with an air of transparency. When I’m honest that I don’t find every single facet of every single topic to be the most exciting thing in the entire world, students are able to relate on a personal level. They too have unique interests and should not be expected to love like I love or learn like I learn. This honesty gives me rapport as I express why I believe a specific topic belongs in my classroom. Understanding the purpose and intent for an assignment gives the task importance and reason.
Here is where I believe the role of the teacher begins to become indispensable. The teacher, the mentor, the disciple maker is the one who introduces the tough ideas, the ones that would not be broached by passion alone. This person can identify where knowledge is lacking and jettison a student or class into the stratosphere of learning. The teacher instills value; value evokes curiosity.
Listen, watch, do, do, do. Ascribing importance to an idea will fall short for someone who sees importance as unimportant. Because of this I believe it’s imperative to teach in a manner that breaks down those walls and stretches everyone safely. Walls break down when students get messy. Inhibitions break down in an environment where failure and imperfection are not only welcomed, but assumed. This is where I employ a tactic I like to call “Listen, watch, do, do, do.”
- Listen to me explain an idea. This is where theory lies. This is where we assign importance. This is where I admit to you that I too once had to figure it out, where I too once failed in trying.
- Watch me execute the theory. Study the methods, pit falls, and my own mistakes. I like to show examples that are approachable to the least interested yet stretch the most attentive.
- Do it with me. Get your hands messy. Together we’ll make sure you can accomplish the task in a safe environment. This is where we instill confidence that the student too can learn these lessons.
- Do it on your own in an assessable assignment. We practice and we critique. Here I believe it’s important to leave room for non-graded excellence. We create room to go above and beyond simply for learning’s sake, allowing us to safely stretch all students.
- Do it again as the foundation of the next topic. Ideas should compound such that a student at the end of a semester should look back at his early struggles and be amused at how easily the ideas are now employed. The final lesson should then be the foundation for the next course, the next book, the next topic that the student will want to seek out on his own.
Lifelong learners. Many teachers complain about meager pay and endless hours, but if we’re honest with ourselves our reward does not lie in the checks we receive or the ability to leave work at the office, it lies in the moments of discovery. My reward as a teacher rests in that rare instant in which the light bulb turns on in a young mind and she says, “ah-ha!”. Here students find not only knowledge, they also find confidence and worthiness. My job then is to craft moments in which discovery is ripe for harvest, but I cannot reap for them, it must be their own.
If we want to flourish in the classroom of life, we need to fall in love with discovery; from the toddler, to the college student, to the professor at a Christian liberal arts school.