A Classroom of Travellers or a Class Full of Tourists?

14 10 2010

One thing I’ve learned in my short career as a teacher so far is that the classroom is not a salad bar. You cannot pick and choose what ends up on your plate.

The makeup of your class will have already been decided and your role will be to work with what you’ve been given. I’ve also learned that in each setting that I’ve taught, that there are two distinct types of learners: the traveller and the tourist.

The difference between the traveller and the tourist is that the first is active and the second just observes. The traveller seeks out people and adventure, the tourist goes sightseeing. One will be eager to climb the mountain, the other will be quite content to watch. One will jump in with both feet and the other will be concerned about getting mud on their shoes. The traveller is hands-on. The tourist has his hands in his pockets.

In my long practicum in a Gr. 5/6 split in an inner-city setting last year, I had the opportunity to teach a unit on the Human Body – specifically the circulatory system. There were media clips and worksheets available to for me to use, but I wanted to do something memorable to enhance student understanding. I went down to the local butcher and after explaining my intentions, some eyebrows raised and I ordered a cow heart. Since it was for “educational purposes”, it was free! I came back to the butcher the next day and was surprised to see how big a cow heart is (it was massive and “harvested” that morning!). When I unveiled my object lesson in Science class, some were grossed out (the tourists) and others were fascinated (the travellers). A handful of tourists were not into this at all. Several of my young travellers poked around at it and one student even stuck his hand in the upper aorta and followed the channel down until he was elbow deep in the heart of the matter (lousy humour . . . sorry). I asked him questions along the way and after hearing his responses, it was clear to me that this was so much better than filling in blanks on a worksheet. I’m convinced that this was a memorable learning experience that he will remember for months, even years.

Every pupil was given the opportunity to touch a real heart. Some students were quite content to sit on the sidelines, while the majority were much more adventuresome. In this sense, our classroom was made up of both tourists and travellers. Teachers have little control over the makeup of the student population and so, I suppose the real question I find myself asking these days is, “Brad – What kind of teacher will you strive to be?

A tour guide will talk and walk and hope that the group will listen. A tour leader, on the other hand, will jump into the raft with the white water seekers and use his experience to give others their own experiences.

Some of the greatest moments for teachers happens when they get to see what understanding looks like in the eyes of their students.

For me, that’s a pretty contagious feeling.

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