KIDS KNOW MORE THAN WE THINK
I've been teaching mythology for a few years now. I am no expert, and working with the students in this fall's class has proven that to be true beyond an overcast stormfront of a doubt. The kids know more. than they let on. It's up to us to find out.
What do I mean by that?
Do the students come into the class knowing more than I can teach them? No. Well, a couple do. One in particular. That I know of.
But they do know what gets them interested. Jazzed. Engaged.
For much of the first semester, I introduced students to myths from Greek, Roman, Norse, Native American, Asian and then global cultures. Many were fascinated by the stories of Zeus, Medusa, Aphrodite, Perseus, Psyche, Loki, Ragnarok, and more. And the benefit of teaching these stories was learning about them myself. I put hours and hours of research and study into preparing myself for a course that I felt fraudulent to teach. My goal was to know enough to come across as an authority on the topic, at least to my students. I worried about every class - was I prepared enough? What if they ask follow up questions about related gods or parallel myths? How will I be able to answer them?
I prepared engaging presentations and lectures. I introduced concepts and characters. We looked at myth theory. We read. We discussed. No, actually we didn't discuss much. The students were not the discussing sort. What they wanted to do was learn the way they had been learning the last few years through pandemic zoom teaching (also known as talking into the silence). These kids wanted enough lead to go and learn the rest themselves. They wanted to discover. They wanted to research. The kids who took myth were looking for something interesting. No one takes mythology as a blow off course, unless you know everything there is to know about mythology. but the kid who knows everything there is to know about mythology is a kid who likes to read and learn. Those who didn't already know were actually eager to find out. Still, what I was doing was 'presenting'. The students were intrigued. but they left the class as if they left a movie theatre, quietly thinking about the stories and the info. There was little discussion. I wanted discussion. I wanted back and forth. Questions. Action!
Then... some hesitant comments. Some agreements. Some insights. They came in spurts. Blips of insight. Then stares. Silence again.
That's when one of the students ( who actually does know more than me) quietly suggested that I put the learning in their hands. Instead of giving them topics to learn about, offer a broad topic and let the kids choose their path.
now, what's strange here is this: that is how I teach. I coach. I guide. I encourage and facilitate learning. I do not lecture. I hate lecturing. I don't like to talk that much. But here I was, leading too much, and not letting go. As a result, I was worried about preparing for class when I could never prepare enough. Secondly, I didn't have to.
How do you teach if you don't know more than your students? Good question.
I followed my students advice. I put the lead in his hands. he offered to write up the idea, which became a research project filled with choice and options. The class loved it. They dove in.
They did the discovery. We all learned more as a result.
There is enormous power in letting go. The students know how they want to learn. And if you build a trusting relationship with your students, they will tell you. If you're lucky.
Hi. My name is Stephen Tesher. I am a writer and an educator. Most importantly, I am a father. I've authored three books, staged numerous plays and written screenplays, articles, and this blog.