Sitting across the dark wood table from my 8th grade student, his reason for lashing out at a classmate became clear. I simply asked, “How did you view your classmates from the first day of school?” My student replied how he figured they were too different from him because they liked different types of music. To be sure, music taste seems a trivial matter at first glance. After a round of clarifying questions, I learned that these superficial differences had led to a mutual closing of minds.
I believe that if we can educate each other we can open our minds to understanding, acceptance, and ultimately peace. What is most important is that learning never cease. I learn from you, and you from me. Many of us have been schooled to think that learning comes form an omniscient teacher, standing over us. As a middle school teacher, I realize that is far from the truth.
When I walk into my classroom at 7:20am everyday, I am humbled to have the opportunity to learn from my students. Just the other day a 6th grader figured out that we could fix a rickety table by removing the other three leg balancers. For the previous week I was perplexed at how to fix the fourth leg with its missing balancer. With my dearth of carpentry, or any Bob Vila skills, I had thought I was wholly dependent on another adult. I was wrong.
Students not only fix things for me, they also challenge my viewpoints and offer refreshing perspectives. To kick off a writing project with a class, I wrote a descriptive short story they soon would write. During a two day workshop, my students critiqued my paper. By the end of the workshop 90% of the students made a substantive comment. Arms rocketed out of their sockets to signal that young minds housed ideas that have worth. I listened and made a few changes.
Where my students and I feel most comfortable is during our weekly class discussions. From the themes in The Outsiders to the state of the classroom community, we grapple with our diverse ideas. Through this open, frank dialogue students build on students’ comments or question them. In the process of building or questioning, they are opening up a portal where ideas ebb and flow. If ‘tweens’ can listen to one another and come to accept opposing perspectives, then they are learning. What is more, they are teaching.
I too piggyback and push students’ ideas, while I allow them to push back on me. These exchanges lay a foundation for meaningful dialogue which in turn can lead to understanding, acceptance, and ultimately peace. I believe that when we adopt a learning stance we become teachers.
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