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As a “late bloomer” when it came to the world of teaching, I definitely started with the idea that my role in the classroom was to disseminate knowledge. This is a rather hilarious notion, given the fact that I came from a business background and, at Regina Huda School, I was teaching up to twenty different grade nine and ten subjects … many of them, completely outside of my realm of expertise! I was teaching split subjects most periods of the day, with students ranging from some of the brightest I’ve ever met to others who had just arrived from refugee camps and had never sat in desks before. It was all I could do to just push information their way through textbooks and handouts that I made.
As John Locke suggested, I saw my students as blank slates; each day, I would impart my wisdom J by writing countless things on the chalkboard and by assigning ridiculous amounts of homework. (Not my proudest teaching moments!). Needless to say I was at my school for 16 to 18 hours a day and worked for two entire summer is just to keep my head above water. I once justified my very teacher-centered approach by saying that I was in survival mode.
Even when my subject variety was decreased, however, I continued to use a very didactic approach in my classroom. With nearly a decade of teaching under my belt (or abaya, as the case was!), why was I still reluctant to switch gears and try a more student-centered approach? Inquiry-based learning was all the rage, but it didn’t exist in my classroom. Interdisciplinary projects and collaborative assignments were engaging students throughout my school, but not in my room. Why not?
If the truth be told, learner-centered education, “a concept and a practice in which students and professors learn from one another”, was terrifying to me. I was unwilling to hand over the learning to the students for fear that they would discover some flaw in my understanding – that they would expose my ignorance about a certain topic. As I mentioned earlier, some of my students were incredibly bright and loved to challenge the knowledge of the teachers. For example, the time that a grade ten student said, “Miss Layman, you gave us ammonia in our beakers, but the experiment handout calls for bleach. Are you sure this is okay?” Well, thankfully, I had functioning Internet that day and was able to do a quick search into “ammonia vs. bleach”. There could have been grave consequences for all of us, had we used the wrong chemical. (With a background in business and a minor in French, I had no reason to be teaching grade 10 science!!)
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By being “in charge” of every aspect of my classroom (and content), there was little opportunity for the students to embark on learning tangents that would leave me out of the loop. Unfortunately, not only was I keeping my students from reaching their full potential … I was also limiting my own ability to teach with the passion and energy that I knew existed within me.
I’m happy to say that, within about the last two years, as I’ve narrowed down my subject focus and have become more confident in my content knowledge, I’ve slowly begun to hand the power of learning over to my students. I’m nowhere near the “Freirean” level teaching, but I’ve surely witnessed Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development within my classroom and I am applying more of a constructivist approach within my lessons.
Most recently, when teaching a particularly advanced group of computer users, I had the revelation of letting them teach me (and other staff members) in the area of up-and-coming technologies. My grade 10 students researched apps and websites that would be useful to teachers at all levels. They then hosted “Appy Hour” after school one day; the teachers were delighted to learn so much from these young people. The students, of course, benefited from the experience as well! We all learned about new technologies, but, more importantly, the students learned the power of their own knowledge and I learned that I was okay to sometimes be the “learner”, rather than the teacher.
When it comes to my own learning, it was complete culture shock when I entered the Faculty of Education to complete my B.E.A.D. Everyone was so cooperative and open with their resources and knowledge; this was incredibly different from the experience I had throughout the completion of my Business Administration degree. Today, I thoroughly enjoy in opportunities to participate in professional learning communities. I typically feel that I am more on the “learning end” than on the “sharing end”, especially in a class like EC&I 833, but hopefully, with time, I can take a more active mentorship role.