25 December 2010

Some Things I Learned from my Mom, a Teacher

A brief philosophy of teaching
by Matthew Garcia, a son of my mother

It is said in business that "the customer is always right." That does not necessarily mean that the customer is always correct, but instead that the customer’s needs are of the highest priority in the successful transaction of business. In education, the student is the customer, and the needs of the student must always come first and foremost in the teacher’s effort to complete the transaction that is the learning experience.

The student waits, and the teacher may teach all that he or she wants or finds necessary, but that does not motivate the student to take in all of this teaching. The student becomes motivated, often by personal appeal or, even more likely, by an interest in something drawn from their experience, and their capacity for learning becomes unlimited. A transactional process begins, where the teacher provides knowledge and the opportunity for experience, and the student begins to learn from those, to build their mental shelves and place upon those shelves chapter upon volume the individual facts, concepts, ideas, and experiences that add up to the education of an individual. The motivated student is the insatiable seeker of knowledge, the teacher merely a guide and pointer to those aspects of the world that the student desires to acquire most.

But it is still not enough, simply to provide guidance and knowledge. The teaching process by which knowledge is provided and the student acquires, is incomplete. The role of the motivated teacher must fit to that of the motivated student as elements in a structure, the mutual construction of those shelves in the mind through which different volumes of knowledge become connected. For both, the motivated teacher and the motivated student, the development of understanding is a cooperative process. The motivated teacher is a lifelong student, seeking constantly to expand and enhance their own understanding of their world. The motivated student, in cooperation with the dedicated teacher, grows to understand that learning is a lifelong process, a never-ending cycle of questions and answers, leading to more questions and more answers.

It is recognized that the introduction of a child to reading is the opening of the world of knowledge to that child, but the understanding of that knowledge is a process that takes much longer than the complicated process of learning to read. With the conceptual framework that is built up in the cooperation between teacher and student, more knowledge can be brought to the student than all of the books in the world. The key to building this framework is the recognition, first by the teacher and then by the student, but only chronologically, that the framework is unlimited, that the chapters and volumes are endless, that the connections between concepts and facts in the student’s knowledge grow without bound. The imagination is the key to learning--if the student can dream of it, then it can be known and eventually understood. A question may take a minute or a lifetime to answer. The cooperation, dedication, and imagination are the keys to this process of lifelong learning and the quest for understanding of our individual and collective knowledge.

A teacher must seek to work with students individually and cooperatively to make the most of their particular mode and direction of learning. Some students learn by reading, others by seeing something done, and still more by doing it themselves. With the provision of knowledge, the explanation of process, and guidance through the process for the benefit of conceptual learning, the student learns more than just the solution to a particular problem or question. With the cooperative exploration and development of the teacher-student transaction, the student learns how to solve a problem or answer a question, any problem and any question. The student adds to their shelves of knowledge a collection of fundamental concepts and method that will become a toolbox, available for the construction of new shelves and connections throughout the student’s lifetime of learning and quest for understanding.

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