The Classroom as Ground Zero

Michael Wesch says, “learning is subversive,” and I could not agree more. Learning is a rebellion; in the same way that reading was once considered rebellious (and then we burned books), learning is rebellious (and now we censor teachers), and (I fear) the Internet will be the next target of censorship and suppression. And if learning is rebellious, the classroom is Ground Zero, and my job as a teacher is to inform and motivate the troops.

But how do I do that? I’ve thought of myself as a good teacher for a while; I don’t just take exam questions from the book, I create my own lectures with videos and interesting examples, I incorporate discussion and application whenever possible (in keeping with the theme of “anti-teaching”). I like Ellen Langer’s “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach to the increasing interest in technology displayed by modern Americans, and I pull examples from TV frequently (though I could be using social media more effectively) because I know my students will “get it” and may look back on the example with a chuckle. After finishing this week’s readings, though, I felt incredibly motivated to go beyond my current efforts. I felt inspired to re-write my syllabus, to take space away from classroom rules and regulations and instead write things like, “Remember that each student’s perspective is important and we are lucky that you are here to share it with us” and “If you are having trouble seeing why a topic matters, tell me so we can brainstorm together.” I felt charged with bringing controversy into the classroom, to run the risk of butting up against conflicting options while shedding light on important issues.

Maybe I will do some of those things. More than anything, though, I realize the need to be more mindful every time I teach, to take an opportunity to reconsider what I want students to learn from the time we spend together, what I can say that will be memorable and useful to them. If my students finish the semester learning more from the class than they could have just from reading the textbook, if they think about it after grades have been turned in, then I did my job. This is my role in helping the next generation make better the world they were born into.

In all of this, I cannot ignore my privilege in being free to teach as I see fit in a college classroom. Those working with children and teenagers are guided by the rules of “No Child Left Behind” and its trappings, although they really should be the ones with the longest leashes, considering their importance to the development of our youth. To honor them, I must take the opportunity to make my teaching as mindful and meaningful as possible, to help students rediscover what it feels like to want to learn, to yearn for knowledge. When I think about the teachers and classes that impacted me the most, I don’t remember reading a really great textbook or having a particular principle or topic impressed upon me. I remember the educators who were open and honest, who treated me as a colleague when they had no obligation to do so, who acknowledged my effort and made me feel like a contributor. I think about people like Robin Williams’ Mr. Keating, who dared to surpass the lesson plan.

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We simply don’t have time for mindless teaching anymore. There’s too much at stake.

3 Comments

Filed under Contemporary Pedagogy

3 Responses to The Classroom as Ground Zero

  1. kelleyjwj

    Thank you for sharing your motivation and enthusiasm. It sounds like I would like to take your class! I definitely appreciate your statement about the classroom being “ground zero” and the teacher’s job to motivate “the troops.” This week’s materials made me think quite a bit about how we help students be a driving force in the educational revolution, and it starts with them even understanding that they have a say and ideas and desires that matter. I can’t wait to hear updates on how your new approaches to your class come along.

  2. Abi Tyson

    Love this! Especially your stance on your role as a teacher: ‘If my students finish the semester learning more from the class than they could have just from reading the textbook, if they think about it after grades have been turned in, then I did my job.’ This is a great way to approach every single day as a teacher. I love it so much I think I’ll just print it out and put it above my desk for inspiration!

  3. rachellejohnson

    …classroom is ground zero… great concept. Thank-you.

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