The Talmud tells of two prominent sages, Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva. A question is posed to both: “Which is greater, study or action?” They finally agree, “Study is greater, because study leads to action.” Inspired by this Talmudic parable, I believe that education is not an end in and of itself but a means to the most important end: acting to create meaningful change in the world. In Canada’s diverse classrooms, critical pedagogy, guided reflection, and education for active citizenship can help students understand, model, and enact a vision of a pluralistic ad productive society. As a teacher, I see my students as my ambassadors of goodwill, capable of creating far more change in their communities than I could ever bring about on my own.
Education can clarify values and prepare students for a lifetime of active citizenship, helping them understand the implications of their decisions and participation in civic life. Rather than presenting students with one “right” view of a subject, educators must offer diverse and even conflicting perspectives from among which students can piece together an intellectually and emotionally authentic narrative. When given the opportunity to examine and challenge the roots of accepted discourse, students can arrive at grounded conclusions, take ownership of their beliefs, and formulate meaningful opinions. In my experience, after studying multiple perspectives and examining how their beliefs are informed by their values, students feel empowered to address the root causes of these issues and to pursue social justice in their communities. In order to guide students through this process, I must attempt to be sensitive to my students’ lived realities both in and outside of the classroom, and draw them into curricular materials by addressing issues that are culturally relevant. I will not shy away from conflict or controversy, but rather harness its transformative potential.
I have high expectations of all students, and I realize that to meet them I must provide the necessary conditions for success. In my experience these are: manageable amounts of required background knowledge, proper scaffolding and meaningful formative assessments, learning tasks that respect diverse learning styles, teacher and peer support on the ground, and adequate and well-managed time. I hope to facilitate my students’ discovery of their own intrinsic motivations to learn by creating meaningful tasks whose completion are their own reward. Placing students’ learning in the cognitive space where challenge and enjoyment meet creates a feeling akin to Csikszentmihalyi’s ‘flow’ experience. This is an ambitious goal in our world of distractions, but I have seen it happen, and have experienced this powerful immersion in learning myself on numerous occasions.
My teaching style draws on my experience in informal education. Thanks to two of my extra-curricular passions – painting and dance – I know that colour and movement deserve a place in the classroom. Where possible, I use constructivist methods and encourage co-operative learning. My classroom management strategies emphasize relationships built upon mutual respect. I have a hard time enforcing rules that I myself cannot buy into, and I maintain an authoritative but relaxed presence in the class.
Through my experience with adolescents – be it in a classroom or a museum, in Algonquin Park or on Capitol Hill – I have seen that in order for true learning to occur, adolescents need challenge and meaning. Educators working with teens must above all be authentic, attentive to a plurality of ideas and equipped to manage a diverse range of learning styles and expressions. I see teaching as an exchange of ideas rather than a transmission of information. As a teacher, I hope to be able to facilitate transformation and growth in my students, and to learn as much from them as they do from me. It would be an honour to be in a position to open students’ minds to the power inherent in each one of us, and the potential that young people have to shape their futures and achieve meaningful measures of success.