I’m thinking a lot about what it means to teach and learn. What can I do to best help my students learn? Can I teach students without loving them? What can students learn because of me? What will they learn despite me? What power do I really have to help students learn? If it’s only how to write a five paragraph essay or how to sit down and be quiet for a lecture – am I really doing the work I need to be doing? Do I deserve to hold this position of trust, respect, love, and care?

So, as with my “Ask a Colleague” series – I reached out to a number of former students about a month ago to help in my search for answers. I asked the students three questions:

  1. What has “worked” for you in school?
  2. Where are schools not meeting your needs? (What should we have done better to meet your needs?)
  3. If you could start a new school from scratch – what is an essential design feature? What should learning look, feel, and sound like?

Before I share Dev’s answers – I need to tell you a little bit about this fella. On the first day of school last year, he ran up to me – said “Mr. Giesbrecht, I have one question for you… WHAT ARE THOSE?????” while pointing at me shoes. I looked at him, confused to all heck, and said “That is how you, literally, start off on the wrong foot.”

But things got better between us – and my respect for him grows as I see the person is becoming.

Dev said that the things that have worked for him are sports, good teachers, an understanding environment, and healthy relationships and connections.
Schools fail Dev when they don’t provide a helping, home-like environment… he went on to say that his old school (where I taught him) was excellent because he had relationships and interacted with everyone.
Dev’s vision of school includes a home-type feel, carpeted classrooms, devoted teachers, great staff, healthy student relationships, and having fun while learning.

Dev’s pretty up front about the need to feel connected, involved, respected, and care for. His school needs aren’t flashy; it’s cool to have 3D printers and robotics – but that doesn’t “feel” like school to him. He doesn’t need teachers to be brilliant – he needs them to be devoted. He needs to have fun while learning.

I’ve never felt like that kind of teacher… I’ve always relied on knowing content really well and hoping that was enough. I’ve worked hard at the connection and relationship pieces… but I’ve never felt comfortable with it. I don’t know how to make things “fun.”

Commenting on another blog post a while ago, Dev said “I honestly think you’re over thinking the ‘what more can I do’ thing… It’s a type of illusion you set yourself up in.” He went on to say “One day the opportunity will come where you change a kid’s whole perspective on EVERYTHING.” Going back to my opening paragraph… maybe he’s right. Maybe I am doing enough… maybe I should stop worrying about what I can be and start focusing on who I am. Easier said than done… but I’m going to take his advice and write about who I am as a teacher, not who I need to be. Apparently who I am is good enough for at least one student. And one… is a win.