student: (noun) A person formally engaged in learning, especially one enrolled in a school or college.
teacher: (noun) One that teaches; especially : one whose occupation is to instruct.
These definitions bind us. They pull us – and the system we endure – into the deep recesses of the mind. We are social creatures, and yet, we hold these titles as truths immovable. Empty vessels awaiting knowledge: they are not. We are in no way imparting our capacities onto this “passive audience,” known as ‘student’ in any lasting manner. At least, not when we teach as the definition would have us believe.
We need not instruct – on knowledge. Effective instruction should cultivate the learning confines as students drive their inquiry and experience. A student who is “formally engaged in learning,” seems to necessitate a ‘recognized environment’ like a school or college. But, we know that our students are learning all the while, especially when not in our classrooms, as they make sense of the world and its possibilities.
Teaching, indeed, needs to be flipped on its head. The formal classroom, the formal lesson, the formal experience – these things are begging for informal advances. Our education systems stand to gain everything from giving students the lead. If we teachers could only follow the creative musings and inquiries that our students inherently bring with them to our ‘formal spaces,’ we would gladly give up our place at the lectern and sit front row to their discovery.
Teaching is learning. There has never been a more important skill as a successful teacher than being a ‘lifelong learner.’ How can we know what it’s like be a student and learn; if we, ourselves, fail to experience it consistently and actively? If we are but the sum total of our educational experiences – many of us would stand fingers gripped across the lecturn edges as we scream and lecture and impart to whoever is (unfortunately) listening within our school walls. We, teachers, did not explore, create, discover, inquire and construct our knowledge in the way that studies and experts are consistently beckoning us to do. As a result, we do and teach what we know…
But, what if we enter that scary moment when chaos leers and lessons fade? What epiphanies might we encounter? What truths might we realize that were never searched for? What do we stand to lose by allowing our students to lead in their learning, as we assume the role of facilitator – not teacher – and cast off all shackles speaking of such things?
Ban the word, teacher. It imparts on us mistruths and misnomers about that which we aspire to, and yet, more often than not, find ourselves grasping in the darkness of educational constraints. We are all students – only without the need for being “formally” engaged. Learning is everywhere and everything – we dare not close it in.