BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER, ALICE FLAREND, PH.D.
Students usually see teachers as having finished school and, therefore, finished learning. However, the need and the drive to learn new things are integral parts of being an educator, both as an inherent trait and as a result of external forces.
I earned a PhD a few years back, and that process threw me back into a nascent learner mode. I had to learn not only a new language (e.g. epistemology, cognitive versus sociocultural constructivism), but I also developed a new social science way of viewing the world. This brought into sharper focus how I push my students to explain all the motions in the visible world with a few principles and with unfamiliar use of the familiar words, such as force (comes from the interaction of objects), acceleration (not just speeding up), and energy (specifically defined).
I was once again riding the roller coaster of learning: the frustrations of not understanding, the doubts of whether I could understand, and the elation when I finally could understand. I was in the same emotionally charged position in which I placed my students and was reminded just how difficult learning is. My learning journey improved my teaching by pushing me to build stronger relationships with my students to help them manage the emotional swings and to build stronger ties between my curriculum and their prior knowledge to help them navigate to deeper understandings. All of my students come with different prior knowledge, experiences and understandings. As a teacher, I need to learn these particulars about my students and then help them fill in the gaps and further their individual knowledge. This means taking the time to listen to the voices of my students as they tell me about themselves, their ideas and their questions. It also means the classroom activities will look different for different students.
Fast forward to teaching in times of COVID. With little warning, my fellow educators and I were thrown into the uncomfortable world of being learners of technology with a deadline and with hundreds of students, parents and community members counting on us. I need to help my students learn during these stressful times but without the means to look over a shoulder at the student device, or more importantly, without being able to look them in the eye.
My students are willing to simply click, secure in their cavalier view of technology that nothing cannot be undone. I, as an adult, am less adventurous, having unwittingly transferred funds between accounts with one of those simple clicks. My mistakes as a teacher are visible to and affect the lives of my students and their families. Posting wrong Docs, giving assignments on sites that cannot be accessed on certain devices, missing student responses that need an answer can all contribute to losses of learning and faith in schooling.
I felt and still feel awash in a dazzling forest of technology without much of a map. I am one of the lucky ones because my science and engineering background means that at least I have a foundation of programming and electronics which fills out a bit of the map. I understand that computers only know the syntax of the commands given not what we intend to do. This does not, however, mean that I know why sometimes my text comes out backwards on EdPuzzle questions or that I am able to predict how a Doc will look on an iPad versus a Chromebook versus my laptop.
One of the only good things to emerge is that once again I am in touch with the world of the learner, hopefully, pushing me to be a better teacher.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee