Monday, July 14, 2008

The Essences of Teaching: No. 2 Scholarship, or "Teacher, School Thyself"

Part Two in a Series of Three

(Review Part 1)

To be a great storyteller, a bard must learn his tale, and make some of it up as he goes along. Storytellers are always on the alert for another great story to add to their repertoires. Likewise, great teachers are always ready to learn something new. Indeed, they seek it. To truly succeed at their profession, teachers must be life-long scholars.

Pre-service teachers know this, or learn quickly that this is the case. I can recall an occasion when planning an upcoming unit with a student-teacher, she blanched "I don't know anything about the medieval period."
"Wonderful, but you will. Now! is the time to learn, " I replied.
"Teacher, school thyself" is a motto that means you'll never be limited, never get rusty.

Great teachers are avid readers, adventurers, and students themselves. This is true for their whole career, if they are lucky, because it means life is full of discovery. Scholars look for and are drawn to experts. If one doesn't know the taxonomy of art criticism, she seeks a curator; if another needs the decade's influenza statistics, he calls the health department. Master teachers collaborate with teams of colleagues who, like them, are hot for discoveries. Working together across the disciplines can mean new insights for teachers and students alike.

Teachers-as-scholars are travelers, pilgrims, inventors, dabblers, and doers. For instance, an American literature or social studies teacher might visit Lexington and Concord, the stomping grounds of Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Stowe, as well as the beginnings of the American Revolutionary War, all a stone's throw from Salem and Boston and more stories and lessons from history. Or a science teacher might embark on a trek through the rain forest of Peru. Such exploratory teachers find professional development closer to home as well in conferences, classes, tours, events, concerts, dramas, and mini-expeditions to keep their spark for learning (and teaching) alive. Volunteer work not only serves the community, but also informs teachers of local issues, additional skills, and networks of experts to invite into their classrooms.

As scholars, teachers delight in educational challenges, whether its an additional degree or certification, or just for their kind of fun—the joy of knowledge for knowledge's sake. Yet, of course, we all know that this knowledge is for their students' sakes as well. Students love teachers who know how to learn. Such teacher-learners model the adventure of learning, and share knowledge in depth and breath from first-hand study. Next, sharing, spreading, and showing . . .

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