This is my favourite object on earth: my 1996 Gibson SG Standard. I bought it when I was in grade 12, from the money I earned working as a dishwasher at Smitty’s. It was a decent enough guitar as it came from the factory, but it was a cookie-cutter guitar, essentially identical to thousands of others produced that year. As the years passed and I became better at playing the guitar, I started noticing aspects of it that could be improved upon to make it easier to play for me and that would make it sound better. So, over the years I have learned various lutherie skills to customize my guitar, to make it uniquely mine. I have made many mistakes, and my guitar shows the scars and dings from these, but overall its playability and sound have improved. Recently I decided to re-level, re-crown and redress the frets on my guitar, as seen in the picture here. It was an intimidating job, but through the wonders of instructional YouTube videos as well as patience and attention to detail on my part, I succeeded and my guitar has never played or sounded better.
When I think about the meaningful and independent learning I have experienced in my life, such as that with my guitar, almost all of it has occured outside school walls. To be clear, I don’t think this is an undesirable outcome–for students to be life-long learners who realize that learning is not something that happens only at school. But the formal education I received, being largely compliance and conformity based, didn’t fully allow for my own interests and strengths to blossom–at least not within school walls. But why can’t this kind of interest- and strength-based learning happen within school walls? I don’t know if there is anything more empowering than identifying your own learning goals based on what you like and what you’re good at then working to achieve them. This is certainly how I have felt with each new skill I have set out to learn. When we feel empowered, our challenges seem less daunting and our resilience grows.
During this, my first year as a teacher, I have tried to get my students to recognize and value their unique strengths and interests and to use these as a basis for much of their classroom learning. My approach at times has been clunky and inconsistent, I have floundered and made many mistakes, and like my guitar, I am a little dinged up from the process. But, also like my guitar, I am a little better than I was when I was “factory fresh” from university.
Perhaps the most profound thing I have learned this year it is that, even when I felt like a floundering fool of a teacher, my students were still learning and growing. Of course they were–this is what children do. They are naturally curious and inquisitive and awed by all the wonders inherent in learning about their reality. If they can get through a year in my class without these qualities being sucked out of them, I think I’ve done my job.
So, moving forward from here in my career, my over-arching goal of goals is to keep learning how to be the best lead-learner in my class that I can be–one who guides his fellow learners, who stokes the fires of their curiosities, who inspires them to be creative and innovative, and–above all–who presents opportunities for their strengths and interests to blossom. I have a very far way to go, but I look forward to the journey and the dings I will acquire along the way. It’s the dings, after all, that remind us we are works in progress.