By Scott Knecht When you are a teacher, everyone knows what you do, right? You teach! Everyone has a mental picture of a teacher standing in front of his classroom talking, pacing, writing on the board, grading papers, peering over the tops of his glasses, etc. Those are standard actions of a teacher in his habitat.
But beyond the actions, what are you trying to a accomplish? What is your goal? At the end of the day, how will you know if you were successful?
Below is a quote from Dr. Rolf Kerr (Google him – highly successful and influential educator). Notice the 4 things that he says needs to happen in an educational exchange:
“The acquisition of knowledge is merely the first level of learning. This must be followed by our students’ coming to a clear understanding of that which they have come to know. Even knowledge with understanding is not enough. Those we serve must rise to a level of belief that makes learning meaningful and operable in their lives. They must recognize that what they have come to know, what they have come to understand, and what they have come to believe should change their lives, bringing happiness and the blessings of heaven in this life and through the eternities to come.”
Think about the relationship of those 4 things. If we are studying the Gettysburg Address and I teach about the context of when and where it was delivered, then have my students memorize it, I can probably say they know it. But I also want them to understand it, so we delve deeper and come to see the motivations and reasons for its delivery. At the end of a class like that you may be tempted to think your job is finished. “They know it and understand it.” But tomorrow you could do similar things with the Communist Manifesto and then all that your students have is knowledge of two documents without the ability to differentiate between them. The know and understand them equally well.
But I want this knowledge to change their lives in some way, or else it is just knowledge stored away for the test. In order for the change to happen a student needs to be given the opportunity to believe – believe in the goodness or badness of a thing. I want them to see it, know it understand it, then weigh it out and come to believe it or discard it.. Only in that way will there be enough motivation to make a change.
When I watch teachers teach I see as one of the consistently weakest parts the ability to help students believe something. I see lots of really good ways to help them get the content and the context into their minds. I see very creative ways to help them understand what they are studying. What I see far less is an invitation to believe something, and this is what I think is the missing ingredient: passion for the subject.
My 6th grade teacher let us all make wooden rifles to teach us about some aspect of American History. I’ve forgotten the reason for doing so but I have never forgotten his excitement and urging as he watched us plan and create our little masterpieces. And I still have a great love for American History. I had a high school geometry teacher who made angles seem alive and exciting, and……I still love people who love geometry. I remember different religion teachers who made the scriptures come so alive that I couldn’t wait to dig in deeper on my own. These and others were all teachers filled with passion for their subject. They weren’t detached and they weren’t haltingly cool. They loved what they did and they knew I would too if I would dive in and start to absorb it. My life has been changed and enriched by encounters with great literature because of teachers (and my mother) who loved literature. Finally, understanding the scriptures has changed and improved my life forever and it was passionate and talented teachers (and my father) who lit the fire.
I see a lot of wonderful technicians in the classroom but some days I long for passion. I picture a teacher grabbing a student, staring intently at them and bubbling forth with “This is true – it will change your life – believe me!” (I never suggest the grabbing part, but I do suggest the bubbling forth part). Sometimes passion is loud and demonstrative, sometimes quiet and evocative, but it is always real, not feigned. However you feel it and express it, you’ll have a better teaching experience – and your students will have a better learning experience – if you interject some of it into your lessons.