Haven’t blogged in quite a while now. School year ended and most of my energy has been consumed by writing (we’re doing our own Geom text here at my school!) and by preparing to move. The apartment moving adventure brought me (over and over again) to our local Lowe’s hardware store. The trips to Lowe’s got me thinking about my classroom – especially about the Geometry classes I’ll have in the fall. Let me try and make sense of why.
When he was a young man my dad worked as a carpenter for Macy’s in NY. I inherited NONE of these skills. I am lucky that my wife seems to find me handsome since I am certainly not handy at all. I have had the occasion to go looking for shims, looking for shelf pins, buying paint, etc. What I have noticed is that I have NO ability to understand the basic architecture of this store. I know that there are clues about where to find certain items but I cannot decode them. This got me to thinking about my students as they try to navigate their studies. I made myself go and seek help. I was confident enough to be able to describe what I needed and in some cases brought evidence with me of what I needed to buy. In some cases, as with the purchase of paint, I was asked questions that I was not prepared to answer. Since I knew that I needed to paint to make my children happy about their new rooms, I was determined to make sure that I completed my purchase. When I was asked questions about what kind of finish I needed I was able to simply admit my near total ignorance and simply take the advice of the salesperson. This did not make me feel good about myself, but I knew it was important enough to make myself suffer through this relatively minor indignity. I started thinking about my students and how difficult this situation is for a person’s ego. The difference between my level of knowledge and the level of expertise that the workers at Lowe’s possess created an uncomfortable tension for me. Not because of their behavior, but simply because I felt bad about my lack of ability to process the information expected of me. How different is this from the situation that many of our students find themselves in every day? I would say that there are a few big differences. I knew I needed to work through this to make my move possible. I am not convinced that my students are always able to impress upon themselves the importance of the struggles they are experiencing. Part of that becomes my responsibility to convince them of this. The more important difference as I see it is the fact that I have no continuing relationship with the workers at Lowe’s. I don’t have to face up over and over to my lack of ability to process what seems natural and obvious to them. My students have to see me every day for 9 months or so. It is easier for them not to admit when they don’t understand. It’s easier for them not to ask for help in navigating a mysterious terrain.
When i start up again in the fall I need to remind myself of the feelings I had at Lowe’s – especially with my younger students in Geometry. It was important for me to be reminded of how uncomfortable it is to be confused. It was important for me to revisit that feeling. I will be processing that this summer and try to make sure that I can create both a sense of the importance of our academic mission for my students and a sense that it is okay to admit when the fog of confusion settles in. I need to be aware of helping my students understand the structural architecture of their studies so that they can help themselves more than I was able to help myself in Lowe’s.
This is a great post. And I’m SO glad to know I’m not the only one who considers himself less than handy 🙂 The way you’ve described discomfort and how that plays into the relationship between teacher and student is critical. Thanks for more food for thought!