Tuesday, September 19, 2006

ON TEACHING: Uncertainty and Tolerance

I got to talking with a friend today about uncertainty (how, as teachers, it seems impossible to be certain that we know what we are doing), and he brought up the idea of “tolerance”. In engineering, he said, there’s always a “degree of tolerance” allowed to account for the impossibility of complete certainty. Engineers can never be certain their measurements are perfect, so some allowance must be made for surprise deviations. Because of this, engineers must constantly recalculate and reevaluate their measurements; nothing is ever absolutely set in stone. This led me back to teaching – to the fact that I increasingly feel uncertain about what I’m doing in the classroom, or what I’m supposed to be doing. This teaching enterprise seems, more and more, like true “rocket science” – like trying to navigate through outer space with a blindfold on. I pretend that I know what I’m doing, but I’m afraid that’s just a role I play. The truth is I’m lost in a mystifying maze. What’s wonderful, though, is that it’s a rather magnificent maze. Because I’ve accepted the fact that I ultimately have no clue as to what teaching adolescents is really all about, I’m able to relax, so to speak, and enjoy the ride. I guess I’ve learned, like the engineers, to allow for “a degree of tolerance”. My “measurements” (learning theories, lesson plans, objectives, etc) could be slightly off or way off, and I need to be always ready to make adjustments and change plans. I need to be tolerant of my ignorance. In humility, I need to bear, endure, stand, abide, suffer, and tolerate the uncertainty that is part of all of our lives.

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