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Back to the Beginning
How do you achieve it?
As we often do, I occasionally invite guest speakers into my classes. There are a number of good reasons to do this.
Of course the first is so that students can hear a different voice. I mean that literally and figuratively. There is a monotony that is created by just hearing the teacher’s voice every day at the appointed hour. Even within classes, I try to break that up with my Teaching Assistants teaching a part of several classes. But by the spring semester, for sure, I think my students really benefit from hearing a different voice. Preferably one that balances mine - that is, not another old white male.
And of course, I also mean this figuratively - that the students hear another perspective on what we have been learning all semester, from someone who went through the same threshold concepts in the past, and who now has put them into practice in the working world. While the guest may say some of the same things I have been saying all year, that is actually a good thing. For students to hear from someone in the world they are aspiring to join, who supports what they have been learning, well, that can be incredibly valuable.
But a different voice also refers to they way students learn a little bit about someone else’s path, which obviously will differ from my own. And who has implemented what they learned in different ways than I did. This is all good.
Having a guest speaker is not to be taken lightly, of course. Our responsibility is to make sure the precious class time allocated to us is well utilized, and having someone come in who is unprepared or off topic can abdicate that responsibility, and even damage trust with your students. It should fit the syllabus in some logical way, and be additive to the learning, not just a diversion or a side show.
I find the hardest thing for guest speakers to do is to come all the way back to where the students are. Once you have left school, and built a career in the workforce, and years have past, it is very hard to remember how little students know in the early stages of their learning. And to rush in from a busy day - as guest speakers naturally do - where they have been operating at a level and speed way beyond where your students are. Trying to stay at that speed and level can negate many of the beneficial effects of bringing in a guest speaker mentioned above.
I recently had a guest speaker in class who did an excellent job of this. She works at a very high level, all day, and has for nearly 30 years. But she was able to do this seamlessly. To reach the students where they are, rather than impress them with her work world. (I did remind her of the importance of doing this in advance of her talk, but I suspect she did not need the reminder).
Of course this need to “go back to the start place” is a critical component of all successful teaching. As teachers, we may have more practice coming back to where our students are, but it is worth remarking on how difficult it can be, even for us. And thinking through how we do it, year after year.
We are nearing the end of the school year in a couple of months. Which means, we are about to start our summer breaks. I have written here before about the importance of intentionally using the summer time to rest and rejuvenate, but I have not written about how we go about resetting ourselves mentally for the new school year.
That’s partly because I am not sure I know. But I do know that it is not achieved through rest alone. There must also be intentionality around recalibrating to our new students. Put another way, between mid-May and mid-August, we have to rewind from where we left our students at the end of the spring, all the way back to the Starting Point that our new students will be standing on.
How do we do that? Instinct? The power of the routine? It has to be more than that.
So I throw this one to you, dear reader. How do you reset back to the starting point, the “I don’t know anything about this” stage in your students’ learning?
Letters of Recommendation
Continuing my theme of reading biographies of great artists, this week I offer one about Ludwig van Beethoven written by Jan Swafford, Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph. Long, but not longwinded, even gripping at times. If you enjoy looking into the life of a towering genius, this book is for you.
Q of the Week
The Q of the Week this week is a Quote from the British poet, essayist, and playwright T.S. Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
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