TEACHING & LEARNING
In September, 2000 I began journaling daily. September is the start of my personal year--a holdover, probably, from when I was a perpetual student, loved school, and summers were just annoying periods of being hot and unhappy until fall approached and school doors opened once again.
Anyway. That's beside the point, sort of.
My journals are dumping grounds for information, quilting diagrams, emotions, you-name-it. Journals have also become a wonderful way for me to explore ideas.
Take yesterday--I never know where the nudge comes from, but I often find myself writing about something I might want to blog about one day. That morning's nudge was about lessons I've learned--how we learn from each other--about being a teacher, or an example, to other people.
Lessons come from everywhere: friends, family; strangers; neighbors; my dog. . . . Here are some random thoughts from my writings:
- I learn about unconditional love and forgiveness from Joy, my dog. If you've ever owned--or been owned by--a dog, you'll recognize their seemingly infinite capacity for love and devotion. They forgive your bad moods, your ranting about something totally unrelated to them, your forgetting to fill their water bowl or feed them on time. I find that love and forgiving nature quite humbling.
- I learn that time and distance mean nothing with true friends. One friend of over 40 years' standing is as present when she comes to visit three times a year as she was when we spent hours together every single day during our college years. We seldom write letters or emails or talk on the phone. We don't need to, because we are so in tune with each other.
- I've learned about friendship among people with radically different beliefs--there's always some point of contact, some connection that allows us to know we're friends.
- Another lesson has shown me that young people the ages of my grandchildren can be my friends--it's a matter of finding similar interests and respecting our differences; and then being present with each other. Caring is another word for it.
- I constantly learn from my children: about their worlds/careers/interests. They share their beliefs (which are not always the same as mine), knowing that our mutual love and respect mean that we can discuss a wide range of topics without animosity.
- I learn that caring for others is alive and well in my neighborhood--we have only a few young families, with school-age children; most of us are 60+, retired, and in various stages of our lives. Yet there's a little network of checking in with each other, looking for signs that someone needs help, taking food to share with a shut-in down the street. The younger folks get into the act, helping rake leaves in the fall or shovel snow.
Teaching and learning are wonderfully symbiotic--teaching someone a skill leads to the teacher learning something as well. And a pupil learning something new becomes, unwittingly, perhaps, a new disseminator of that same bit of knowledge.
A number of years ago I taught freshman composition at Purdue University. Every semester I learned something I hadn't known before. Most of my learnings were about people With each new group, the chemistry changed. Classes were composed of varying ages: high school graduates, returning students who had left for some reason, or adults recognizing a need or desire to get a degree. My favorite classes were the ones with students ages 18 to 40 (or older). With no planning on my part, I often witnessed the older students teaching the younger.
One year we had an assignment to read about a Christmas celebration. In class, we discussed the reading and told about our own experiences. A quiet woman in her 50s startled the rest of the students by saying, "Christmas Eve is the loneliest time of the year."
I've never heard a classroom grow so quiet so suddenly. The woman went on to say that she had no family, and all her friends went to their families for Christmas.
Clearly, younger students had never experienced such a thing. They were stunned. I suspect a few did understand because their Christmases weren't happy ones. But the majority were hearing about a lonely Christmas for the first time.
That experience happened over 30 years ago. It still lives for me as one of the finest examples of learning from each other, in an informal way.
Book learning has always been important to me. I don't know what I'd do without books.
But the best lessons--the ones that stick with me longest--are the ones I learn from people.
There's no substitute for family . . . our earliest lessons come from the folks who welcomed us into the group, nurtured us, disciplined us, and eventually shoved us out of the nest.
Today I celebrate teaching and learning. I celebrate the teacher in all of us, and the lessons we've learned--quickly, painlessly; or the tough ones that make, perhaps, a bigger impact.
Keep on learning. And teaching.