Teaching riders to learn

The two young women were watching my son and I ride RipStiks on campus. They seemed interested in trying to ride, so I offered them a chance to try one out. As one tried to stand on the RipStik, the other steadied her by holding her hands. As soon as the supporter let go, however, the rider immediately lost balance and fell off without making any forward progress. They repeated this approach a couple of times.


My son, meanwhile, went whizzing by, taunting, "See, it's easy!" 


Without giving any thought to my action, I suggested another approach. I asked if the young woman if she was right or left-handed. She was left-handed. So I switched her to a goofy foot stance. Then I told her to put her right foot on the front plate with the RipStik pointed down a very shallow slope. I told her to focus her vision not on where she was going but on the back plate of the RipStik. I told her to lift her left foot onto the back plate while focusing on that plate. Then she could look ahead.

With this advice she was up and riding almost immediately. While her first few runs were no more than a couple meters, she quickly extended her balance skills to cover over ten meters. She was riding, and soon, using the same approach but regular foot, so was her right-handed friend.

Once up on the RipStik, both began to teach themselves how to correct the direction of the board, how to remain on an even keel. With a little instruction, both were now learning to learn to ride a RipStik.



The theme for the teacher's forum this year is Pohnpei now: Teach to learn, learn to teach. I submit that one cannot "learn to teach" "teaching to learn." 


Everyone is born a learner. 
Not everyone is born a teacher.
Nor can everyone be made into a teacher.


Over my years in education I have seen content area experts who were either uncomfortable in a classroom, unable to connect with the students, or simply ineffective teachers. Their students end the term feeling frustrated, confused, and wholly uncapable of learning how to learn more in the subject area. No amount of education nor methods classes would be of any help.


I have seen others, with but a small pocketful of knowledge, who vault their students well beyond their own knowledge set. Their students learned to learn and took that ability and rode that subject area RipStik beyond anywhere their teacher had ever been. For them, methods classes simply provide additional tools to use as they do what they naturally do.


I teach because I do not know how not to teach. As soon as I learn a new skill, I immediately want to share that knowledge with others. As soon as I learn, I want to find a way to effectively communicate that knowledge or skill. Mastering the new knowledge set or skill is intrinsically insufficient for me. I am not satisfied until someone else has learned this new thing too. 


Teaching is an addiction for me, I doubt I have the constitution to stop myself. I am happy I exist in a reality that values teachers, but I fear I would teach even if I was told not to teach. Teaching is my compulsion. I was not taught to teach, that was in me before any methods or curriculum design class. 


Over the years I have seen my students soar to new academic heights, into fulfilling lives and careers. This is one of the perks of teaching on an island, one eventually meets again one's former students. 


At the college the only four year degree is an education bachelors degree in partnership with an external university. Yet students flood into this program as it is the only bachelors degree to be had on this island. That the program takes all comers above a certain GPA carries the implication that anyone can be a teacher. And with their new bachelors degrees, the graduates are virtually guaranteed positions in the local school system. These are the future teaching force for the FSM.


A thorough knowledge of content is a necessary pre-requisite to being a teacher, but content mastery alone is not a sufficient pre-requisite to becoming a teacher. There is more to being a teacher, to teaching others to learn how to learn. 


While in graduate school at the University of Illinois I had the pleasure and honor of hearing both Noam Chomsky and Paolo Freire speak. My recollection is that Chomsky held the view that education was an indoctrination process that converted one into a true believer in that which the existing system wanted one to believe and think. Freire said education was love, and for Freire education was revolutionary for the individual. Once educated to ask questions, the genii cannot be put back into the bottle. I concur with Freire, education is subversive, and teaching is an act of love. 


I fear the result of the current structure that pulls all who seek a four year degree on this island into the education program will be a future with teachers who are not called by the profession, but for whom teaching is simply a job, something to do to earn a paycheck, a task that gladly dropped at five o'clock or on a Friday afternoon. For whom teaching is something done for fiscal compensation, for survival in a job poor economy, for mercenary reasons and not for love. Maybe this is as it must be, but this is not how it ought to be.


Meanwhile a learner continues to learn beyond her teacher's rudimentary advice.


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