Reflecting on Teaching and Learning

As we wind down the school year, I’ve been reflecting a lot about teaching. While I have taught in other contexts before, this year is the first time I have taught the same group of students for two semesters, from the beginning of September and finishing our time together next week. We sort of said our goodbyes this week because next week is the final test, so this week was really my last chance of ‘teaching’ them. I will miss teaching them. It has been an intense learning experience for me, and I feel so privileged to have had our time together. I have definitely learned as much or more from my students as they have learned from me.
The questions that I continue to ask myself are: What will they remember from my class in 5, 10, or even 20 years from now? What impact have I made? Have I provided at least a small stepping stone for each of them to reach their potential? This is indeed my aim. I probably will never know the answers to my questions, but these questions will continue to impact my teaching, and will challenge me to stretch myself in terms of how I teach and what activities take place in the classroom.
I have also been reflecting about the teachers in my life, who have made great impact in so many ways: by inspiring and supporting my growth, challenging my thinking, and shaping my values. I have had many informal teachers in my life, through work and friendships and family relationships. However, when I think about the formal teachers I have had during my education path, from public school to high school and frpm undergraduate to graduate university, no one holds a candle to my grade 13 teacher: Mr. Philip Marsh. Twenty-two years ago, I took an OAC course called “Science in Society” and that course transformed my life. Why? Because Mr. Marsh was engaging, challenged us to stretch our thinking, cared deeply about each and every one of us and introduced new concepts that were new and exciting and changed our lives. We wrote every week in our ‘learning log’, questioning what we experienced in our day-to-day life, and trying to uncover new truths and new understanding. Before Mr. Marsh’s class, I rolled through my classes and grades, but this class woke me up to learning, to a thirst for knowledge that I didn’t even know I had. Whenever I wrote in my learning log, Mr. Marsh would respond and recommend a book for me to read, and I would pick it up from the library and read it as soon as possible. Some of his reading suggestions were way over my head, like philosophers such as Neitzsche and Kierkegaard, but I read them anyways and tried so hard to understand.
What is fascinating, and I think what is proof that Mr. Marsh was such an amazing teacher, is that I still remember the concepts/ideas I learned in his class. Some of these key concepts were:
-‘Paradigm shifts’ – understanding that culture and cultural values shape science, as well as language and behavior and all day-to-day activities. Understanding that different demographics think differently because they were born with different paradigms of understanding how and why the world works and what should be valued or not.
-Systems Theory / Emergence – The whole is more than the sum of its parts, because of the complexity of interactions and relationships happening. Quite simply, you cannot understand the essence of an animal through dissection and naming of parts. Understanding anything is far more complex.
-Quantum Physics – All I remember is that this science tells a story of the world being alive, full of energy and light and waves of energy, and there is no separation between matter and space. I remember realizing that truly, if you believe the Quantum Physics story, everything, including the desk I write on and the pen I hold, is alive and moving at a subatomic level.
-Anthropomorphism – The idea of attributing human characteristics to nature, such as an animal or the weather. As well, valuing some nature more than other nature because of its relative similarity to humans.
This course was about science, but the learning was so much deeper. After high school, my path was far from science, but the learning from this class continues to carry with me. As a teacher, I want to strive to be as caring, challenging, and engaging as Mr. Philip Marsh was to me in 1992. If I can do that, then I will feel confident that I have played my role in being a small but critical stepping stone for my students on their journey of life.

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