Friday, January 01, 2010


    In educational circles, we usually assume good teaching comes first, then good learning, but who knows – perhaps it’s the other way around. Education is such a give-and-take, take-and-give process that it might be virtually impossible to determine where it starts and ends. In fact, there may be no starts and endings at all, but just a never-ending spiral of learning involving the students and teacher in a single seamless process. During my long career I’ve often wondered about this “chicken or egg” question, especially during those countless classes when I’ve been astounded by something my students have taught me. I make careful lesson plans each day, but, unaccountably, the students manage to teach me lessons with no help from plans, preparation, or teacher training. I long ago lost track of the number of times my students unfolded the meaning of a novelist’s paragraph for me, or opened my eyes to the significance of a line in a poem, or brought me around to the main point of an author’s essay.  I’m the trained teacher, so I certainly hope I cause some learning to happen, but clearly a significant amount is caused by the students. A lot, too, is caused simply by the fact that I make mistakes in each class, and every one of them is a fine teacher. Each of my slip-ups is a professor who glares at me and says I can do it much better.  I bow, give it thought, and try to learn, thankful to have useful mistakes and instructive students to keep the education going.

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