I often joke that one of my teaching licenses states that, according to the State of Kansas, I’m an expert in all things related to:
1) American History from the beginning of time to now;
2) World History, from the beginning of time to now;
3) American Government (actually all forms of government in the world);
4) Economics, including micro- and macro- details; and finally,
5) World geography, including not only all political and physical geographical places on the globe, but that also includes expertise on all places’ culture, religion, history, agriculture, economics, etc.
And I think there’s some other stuff listed on the license too.
Wow. What a walking genius I must be!
And what a load of hooey it is to believe that I’m an expert in any of those topics, let alone all of them. Not once have I ever worked in a museum or a library that archived any of this type of information. Not once have I ever worked on an archeological dig or discovery location to become an expert in any of these areas. I have never in my life spent a great deal of time BEING a geographer, or historian, or economist.
I did take some classes at university because I have a strong interest in these areas. And I’ve continued to have a strong interest, noticing books, posts, engaging in debates, conversation, and visiting museums/libraries to feed that strong interest. But I’m distinctly no expert.
So how is it that I can, as a teacher, year after year, facing classroom after classroom full of kids, conducting parent meeting after parent meeting, confidently proclaim that I’m an expert? That what comes out of my mouth is so very vital that kids had better write down all I say, memorize it, and then use that info to answer questions to then, themselves, be proclaimed as having “mastered” the topic’s content?
Are you kidding me? No, I’m not an expert in any of those things. I’m interested. I’ve studied some.
But I am an expert in teaching and learning.
Over the past 20 years, I have worked thousands of hours with kids, learning how to know them as people. Getting to know how hundreds of individual students learn. What makes them excited about a topic. What frustrates them to a breaking point. What distracts them from goals they know they want to attain. What it takes to find success through all the potential pitfalls (and hormones).
And with this knowledge, I believe I can help my students to become better learners.
What I want to do is help my kids learn how to learn. I want to spend an inordinate amount of time helping them discover their strengths and then learn how to leverage and maximize those strengths to minimize their weaknesses. I want them to learn how to intelligently use technology to reach out to real experts in the world. And to learn how to become experts in the fields of their choice.
And they must be given the chance to learn these skills by actually using them in meaningful ways. Sure, my content is important, but in the world of middle school and high school education, my content is secondary. It’s interesting. The class selections in middle and high school should be more interesting. The selections could be a buffet of life and career possibilities that kids can come sample, taste, and see if they’re interested enough to become all engrossed in it — to see if they could be interested enough to develop an expertise.
So in a truly amazing school, the focus would be on learning how to learn instead of isolated content packets and GPA, and the students would practice learning how to learn by sampling truly interesting content of all flavors.
Hm. Is it just me, or does the focus on content and GPA seem to be kind of like how my teaching license says it’s about my so-called fields expertise? when truly my expertise has developed from the practice that I do every day.
I’ve chosen to be an expert in the field of teaching and learning and I try to maximize my strengths to help the world be a better place. And now I’m trying to help other educators learn how, on a daily basis, to help kids do the same.
So I’m asking you as I would ask my students: what is your expertise and what do you do with it?