Learn me

Right from the very first day in 1980, when I observed my primary teacher tuck her hair behind her ear (she brushed her hair in front of us every morning), I knew that teaching would be wonderful.  From then on, I mimicked every gesture of every teacher I had every year after that.  I wanted glasses because my grade 5 teacher had them, I got a chalk holder for Christmas so I could click it the way my grade 6 teacher did, until I was about 12 I used to play school in the basement almost every day after school.  I liked to teach invisible students.  They let me have free rein and they did not interfere with my agenda by being stuffed bears or by talking back.  My real live teaching career ended up morphing into other aspects of education but to this day a chalk board and an empty room make me tremble a little.  I liked sorting out my students, praising the excellent ones, pairing up others for assignments and berating the hopeless ones.  The real thing was a lot harder than it looked and the novelty soon faded.

Recently, my daughter started asking me to play school with her.  Asking an adult to play school with me never once crossed my mind.  Having another human involved, even a kid, in playing school always kind of got in the way of it for me so I was a little surprised and reluctant to indulge her.  However, the other day I finally relented expecting to be charged with doing a series of tasks that she cooked up and having her "teach" me things.  She, however, wanted to be the student.  She obediently sat in the little desk and eagerly beamed up at me waiting for me to issue instructions.  I carefully maintained the illusion by explaining  the tiny breaks I took were because I had to check with the principle(talking to her dad or making coffee) or I had to talk to the primaries (her brother).

She accepted all the work I asked her to do with relish and gradually over time she started to make suggestions about what we could do next.
 "You could look up Spanish words on your iphone and we could have Spanish class"
 "We can have a scavenger hunt in the backyard"
 "We can have a cooking class" (as she hauls out the recipe book).
"We can do abstract art."
"We can visit a fire station" (looking longingly over at her brother watering the plants with a hose)

Finally, she took over and moved the classroom all over the place doing different things, planting things, making compost, writing letters to mail.

Her version of playing school turned the whole thing on its head for me in a good way.  She loves learning.  For her, playing school is about continuing to be a student, to extend the learning after the formal stuff ends.  As a learner she had expectations of what would be good things to learn and she communicated them to her teacher.  At times, she took over and taught part of the class. The more I observed her, the more I could see in action what teaching should be, not focused on a single person but an active, dynamic opportunity that invites learners to join in, continually opening up possibilities.