This I Believe

craig - winchester, Virginia
Entered on September 4, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

Teachers learn from students

I believe teachers can learn from students. I did not always believe this. I especially did not believe this when I was a student. In my college days, teachers seemed like Gods. They knew so much. I wondered if information trickled out of their ears when they tilted their heads.

Occasionally, I had doubts about their omniscient nature. Sometimes their lecture facts did not match the textbook. Sometimes their lecture slides were organized like Scrabble™ tiles after an earthquake. Sometimes their lecture management included throwing a piece of chalk at a student for not paying attention. I still have that darn piece of chalk.

But I never challenged the wisdom of their ways. I did not raise my hand in class. I did not ask questions about curi¬osities I had. I did not inquire about gaps in the lecture content. No way. I knew what happened to Prometheus. Don’t upset the Gods, they will use vultures or chalk to put you in your place.

So what did I do? I became a teacher. I became omniscient. I became a God. I could laugh at texts that did not agree with my lectures. I could show students that there is such a thing as a dumb question. I could shoot chalk from my fingertips.

But something went horribly wrong. I discovered teachers are not omniscient. I learned this in the first course I ever taught after getting my doctorate in physiology. I learned it from a student. She sat in my human biology course for undergraduate non-science majors. She sat in the third row.

I was lecturing on the female re¬productive system. I explained how one egg is released from an ovary once a month. I explained it slowly, they were non-majors. A hand went up. Her hand. “Do both ovaries each release one egg each month or does just one ovary release one egg each month?” she asked.

I froze. I wanted to say, “What a dumb question,” but it was not a dumb question. I blinked. I wanted to throw chalk at her, but she was paying atten¬tion.

I shifted my weight. A cricket chirped. Everyone was staring silently at me. I drew in a breath, slowly raised my arms up high and exhaled loudly, “I have no stinkin’ idea!” I then erupted into laughter, and the class joined me.

Mt Olympus turned into a wild party, and everyone was invited.

After the laughter dissipated, a student shared, “I think it is only re¬leased by one ovary.” Another student concurred.

Then a string of questions ensued from the students; “Is it the same ovary every month, or does it alternate?”, “If it alternates, and you only have one ovary, are you infertile every other month?”, “I can tell which ovary is releasing an egg each month, can anyone else?”

None of this detail was in the texts I studied. Maybe it was in that lecture with the chalk missile. We turned the lecture into a discussion. We all learned from each other.

I believe sharing what you don’t know is as important as sharing what you do know. Questions can be as valuable as answers. Students taught me that. Students teach me that every year.

I believe teachers can learn a lot from students. I know this one has.