Why We Teach; Why They Learn

We work at schools to make a difference in the lives of young people, not to teach them what we know, but to help them find their passion to learn what will be meaningful to them, and to apply it to their future lives.  As an administrator, I don’t get the chance to engage students as frequently as a full-time faculty member.  Once in a while, though we get the reward that makes it all pretty worthwhile. I got the following email today from one of the students who went on my two-week trip to the Philippines last February:

It’s 3 AM and I am sitting in my room thinking about the Philippines. I have spent many nights throughout the past few months trying to understand the complex nature of the Philippines trip and it’s everlasting affect on me. My travel journal is just scribbles of words as I try, months later, to put my reflection thoughts down on paper. I am emailing you right now to thank you for your generosity and to tell you how sorry I am as I, and many of my peers, have taken you for granted. Without you, I would never have questioned my very existence and purpose in life. I often find myself looking back, searching for explanations, but I have not been able to find one; it’s been months and I can only understand a few bits and pieces. Thank you Mr. Lichtman for taking me on this life-changing journey. 

The Philippines was, by far, the highlight of my high school career or my life thus far.

Is it overly dramatic, particularly from the distance of a getting-old adult who knows that these intense feelings fade, merge with other powerful forces in our lives, become more distilled through the circulation of time and experience?  Probably.  Do I care about that right now?  No.

The lesson that I hope we all learn is that we can’t teach students that which is tangential to their lives.  The older they get, the more they know what is, and is not, critical to them.  Shoveling our understanding at them is not meaningful.  This is not a phenomenon of the 21st Century; it has always been true.  This student may not remember details of this trip for the rest of her life, but it will have more impact on her than most other things she learned in school.  The lesson is that I/we did not teach her anything; we merely prepared the ground in such a way that her learning would take strong root. We don’t have to go to the other side of the world to apply this lesson to the crafting of the learning experience.

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