If you missed it, see the previous blog to learn about my simple rules. This week, I’m going to discuss the first one: learning.
Perhaps there is an order to my rules. I’m not sure. But if they are listed in some hierarchical order of importance or chronological order as to what should come first, I think it might be this one. Of course, I’m not completely sure. After all, I’m still learning.
This rule came out of my wonders. I wonder what would happen if I approached my students as Mandy, a fellow learner--threw out the Mrs. and certainly the Dr. What if I became like them--in a sense an equal, yet someone who is committed to learning during whatever time we have together? Would the students follow me? Would they become participants with me? Would they self-define as learners? Must there be one teacher is a given situation with 25 learners looking up at her? Is a teacher inherently a learner? Is that implied? Or is the implication that the teacher has already learned? I completed high school and college. Check. Now I’m the expert?
The nay-sayers would talk to me about respect. I must be Dr. Stewart in order for my students to respect me-to establish my authority. Will my authority cause them to learn? If I impress them with my accomplishments, will more learning occur?
Or, will students learn when they see me learn? Is a thirst for knowledge contagious? Can learning be modeled?
I do not have the answers to these questions. They are rolling around in my mind. I do know, however, that I want my students to see me as a learner before anything else regardless of what they call me.
I love how Paulo Freire (2000) ties teaching and learning into the process of becoming “more fully human” (p. 47). I learned so much from the amazing refugee students I taught this summer. I learned of the greatness of those little ketchup packets you can get in the school cafeteria with every meal. Why wouldn’t you put ketchup on top of pizza?
I learned how to greet people in multiple languages. I learned about La Phet Tote--how to make it, when to serve it, and what it tastes like. I learned the inflection of your voice can change your respectful “thank you” in Karen into an ill-mannered “You’re crazy!”
Through my learning, I think I even became “more fully human”. It is through the experience of reading and writing about the refugee experience with these learners that I was able to be transported to other places. Through their narratives, I have become more human, possessing a greater understanding of the human experience.
Through their stories, I know hunger. I know fearing for one’s life. I know goodbyes that last forever. To be poor. To be separated from family. To be vulnerable. To be smuggled. To see death. And it is through these new experiences that my students have given me, that I now have a greater understanding of what it means to live. To be alive. To love. To overcome. Because, as Aye Cho Htay taught me in her own words, their narratives of hardship and suffering are really “journeys of hope and peace.” It is not that I can just teach refugee students more effectively because they have shared their life experiences with me, I can live more effectively, embracing every challenge as another journey to greater hope and peace.
These students possess valuable life-affirming knowledge about the human experience that I learned. I might have been the so-called expert in the English language, but certainly not at life. And if the core purpose of education is to pursue a fuller humanity, then my place is learning beside my students.
Yes, my name is Mandy and I’m a learner.