Last year, my school did intervisitations. It was nice, we visited each other’s classrooms and met afterward to debrief. I mainly visited English and AP Environmental Science, and having spent months sprinkling myself into these classes, there were plenty of takeaways. One of the biggest, though, had nothing to do with taking low-inference notes, thinking about questioning, or any other activity that usually finds its way into a typical intervisitation.
I wanted to learn what was being taught. Being haphazardly obsessed with learning, I couldn’t resist myself as I started to see my colleagues’ classes as avenues to knowledge. It was expertise served hot, fresh, and free each day. Best of all, it was right down the hallway — not at a local university or behind a URL. It was accessible. All I had to do was walk in and sponge it up. (Thankfully, I work with folks who are open to this.)
So as I journeyed through my colleagues’ lessons, picking apart assessment strategies, my student-like curiosity began to overthrow the teacher in me. I started to wonder. The more classes I visited, the more questions I had. In world history, why was the Roman aqueduct an engineering marvel? In science, how do the eating habits of certain animals evolve? In English, how do you write an effective profile?
As my school’s ocean of knowledge revealed itself, I dove in headfirst. I audited one unit of grade 10 English near the end of last year. This year, I’m taking physics for more than a semester. I’ve cashed in one of my two free periods to become an unofficial student.
It has been fun. I attend class every day, scribble down notes, do homework, sweat over exams. I’m sitting on tables thinking about the inclined plane with students who I teach in algebra 2. Instead of being tethered to my computer for 45 minutes, I now use 8th period to wrestle with ideas, lose myself in unfamiliar problems, mess up, and fill my time with ah-ha moments. It’s thrilling.
This renewal of thought that comes from being a student again makes me think. What if teachers were required, as part of their teaching load, to take a class at their school?What if teachers were encouraged to be students? What if we sat alongside some of our own kids in a class and learned with them?
The initial reaction, mainly from rank and file folks like myself, is probably, we have so many things to do already, how could we have time for this?
While that sounds a lot like a symptom of No Time Disease, I get it. I’m voluntarily giving up my prep period to take a class. It’s a tradeoff that I find worth it, but which can’t be expected from the average joe. But what if taking a class was built into our schedule? What if we taught one less class so that we could then enroll in one?
In addition to having a more intelligent teaching corps who is more capable of making connections between disciplines, this may also serve us well with how students perceive us. If we were in their classes learning with them as equals, and they are literally able to see us first not as teachers, but as learners — as humans grappling with new knowledge as a means to better understand ourselves and the world — then maybe they will be more apt to do the same. Maybe.