Thursday, October 01, 2009
WITNESSING IN THE CLASSROOM
I often like to think of myself as a witness in my classroom, someone who watches carefully and can “testify” as to exactly what occurred. This seems to go against the common perception of a teacher’s role – that of an active participant, someone who is too busy guiding and pushing the students to take time to be a passive witness. The teacher, we think, should be a contributor to the class, not a watcher – a doer, not a spectator. If we visited a classroom and saw a teacher just silently observing her students, perhaps for many minutes, we might wonder if she’s dodging her duty. However, shouldn’t a teacher also be a scientist of sorts? Isn’t part of a teacher’s responsibility to study his students the way a scientist studies material under a microscope? How can I effectively plan beneficial activities for the students on Tuesday if I haven’t painstakingly observed what they did on Monday – and how can I observe unless I step back from the action and be a silent witness? It’s hard for me, though – hard to quit talking and thinking and bustling around the classroom, hard to just stop, get quiet, and look at what’s going on. I’ve never been the scientific type – the kind of person who can watch something for a period of time just to see what it does and how it works. Yet that’s what’s demanded of a good teacher, I think – the willingness to observe the students as carefully and intelligently as a wildlife biologist observes her subjects. I have to learn to occasionally be a bystander, someone who pauses to see what’s actually happening. If I did that more often – if I became more of a witness than a performer – my “scientific” notes would surely tell of wondrous occurrences among the scholars in Room 2.