I think I have always wanted to be an expert in something. That’s probably why I became a teacher, to be a paid expert. But the older I get, the more I realize I’m really not an expert in anything.
Sure, I could walk into the classroom and act like I know it all – any teacher worth her weight in worksheets can- but truly I’m not. I am unable to keep up with the current reading titles as I should, I am just learning technology tools, and I still struggle with the best way to teach grammar and vocabulary. Plus I am an awful speller. What LA teacher can call herself an expert if she can’t spell?
What I do have is expertise. I may not know all the books out there, but I know more than my kids do which allows me to recommend a suitable replacement for Goosebumps or move a Twilight lover into Poe, and I talk to our media specialist on a regular basis to find out what they ordered and what’s popular. I still may be looking for new strategies for vocab and grammar, but I know more words than they do and I craft better sentences than most of them and I know when and how to use both. And yes, I’m a poor speller, but I have tons of tricks up my sleeve on how to handle the issue. These I freely model to them.
Most importantly, however, I know how to learn. I offer myself to my students as a co-learner. I have a toolbox full of things that they can try out. (The tool metaphor is one of my favorites and I start most lessons with the saying, “You can’t build a house with only a hammer, right?”) I have magazine articles, websites, videos, stories, novels, tons of text in a variety of forms that they haven’t seen, or even thought of yet. These we read, view or listen to together, question them together, and try to make meaning of them together. When I learn something new, see something new, read something new, I share it. When I struggle with a question, I tell them. And when I am lost, I ask them for directions.
I invite students to bring their expertise to class with them. I once did a whole week’s worth of daily edits on Tesla solely because a student asked me to. She only asked me because she had just read something on the man and wanted to share her knowledge with me. I listen to my students, get to know them, find out what makes them tick and do my best to create lessons that appeal to their acknowledged passions and their hidden ones waiting to be unearthed.
I bring this up because I am starting to feel that some of the experts in education don’t really value learning, they value the title of expert. They are making decisions that affect our kids because they are experts and know better than teachers do about what makes kids learn. They write tests and create policy because even though they haven’t taught in many years (and sometimes not at all), they have read a lot about the subject and are deemed experts. They criticize teachers, yet still uphold the same policies that created the teachers they criticize. The warn teachers about teaching to the test, then in the next breath tell teachers that their jobs may rely on those test scores.
But if you work with kids, if you are truly concerned about what kids need, you know that we need less experts making policy and more people actually listening to the kids they are trying to help.