As professors, we spend our days sharing knowledge on topics of which we are experts. We go home and – when the marking’s done – read the books we like, do the hobbies we enjoy, and play the sports at which we most excel. For the most part, many of us – despite life’s surprises – dwell in our comfort zones. This past semester, I decided to change that.
I enrolled in a college math class. Now, I have not done formative math since Grade 10. That’s more than a couple of decades ago. My math since then has by and large consisted of counting change, doing my taxes, and figuring out how to weight my assignments for eGrades. And, I’m embarrassed to say that these don’t come easily to me.
I enrolled in a math class because I have an 8-year old, and I want to be able to help him with his homework. To my surprise, it turned out to be the best professional development I’ve ever done.
I wasn’t a great student. I forgot my pencil case one time. Another time, I showed up without any paper to write on. I answered text messages and scanned Facebook during the lulls in class… only to realize I missed the next set of instructions. During the end of the semester busyness, I even missed a class, then showed up the next time to a test I was entirely unprepared to take.
When was the last time your palms sweat with pre-test nerves? When was the last time you had to silence the voices in your head berating you for not reviewing your notes? When was the last time you felt too embarrassed to raise your hand and ask a question because it seemed like everybody else understood? When was the last time you felt stupid?
The day of that test, that’s how I felt. It was an excellent exercise in empathy.
That’s how so many of our students feel in our classes. There is so much noise in the classroom. There is the noise of thinking about the test in the class after ours, the work shift that night, and the paper due the next morning. There is the noise of relationship issues and the friend sitting beside them who won’t shut up. Then, there’s the noise of all that negative self-talk.
When I asked Diane Berzins if I could audit her class, she told me I’d likely be bored because the content would be too easy for me. It turns out it was not too easy for me. But, she was kind, patient, and without judgment when she walked us through the content. And ultimately, I did walk away from her class feeling empowered.
It turns out that I am not “bad at math.” I just didn’t know – or didn’t remember – the steps.
My classroom sounds nothing like Diane’s. It’s full of multimedia and gamification. I am loud and theatrical. But, we both strive towards the same goal of helping our students internalize the knowledge we share with them.
It’s just good to remember that there is much more noise in that room than just the teaching and learning.