I’ve been thinking about the “comfort zone.” I regularly hear teachers say (and I admit I’ve probably said all these things), “I love teaching that unit” or “I couldn’t give up teaching that novel. I love it!” or “I don’t want to teach that because I’m not comfortable with it.” I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with loving the content you are teaching or the strategy by which you teach it, but at what point should we step outside our comfort zones and ask ourselves, “But what are the kids getting out of it?”
Just because we love something, doesn’t mean our students will or that it’s necessary for them to love it in order to be successful.
That being said, many of my interests were shaped by the interests and passions of my teachers. Would I have fallen in love with the writing of Margaret Atwood were it not for Mrs. Harvey? Would I have found Jungian psychology remotely interesting were it not for Mr. Williams? Would I have developed such a viceral dislike for Ken Danby were it not for Mr. Hammel? Maybe. Maybe not. I was quite the people pleaser as a student. I dove into subjects and topics that my teachers showed an interest in because I wanted them to take interest in me The by-product was that I studied hard and asked a lot of questions. Maybe not the best example of intrinsic motivation, but it worked for me.
The thing is, most of the students we teach are not like us. One of the reasons we are teachers is because we were pretty successful at the game of school. I think sometimes we forget that. We get frustrated when our students aren’t like us. But why should they be like us?
Okay, okay, so my point: Every day we expect students to do things that they don’t love or find comfortable or even relevant, because we think these things are important. We accept the idea that it takes time for a student to master a new skill, and that a student might not find something interesting, but it’s still important for them to understand that thing (I should mention I’m not talking about the curriculum expectations here, but they way we approach those expectations. Nowhere in the Ontario secondary English curriculum document is the study of Hamlet mandated. Even though I love it.).
How often do we ask the same of ourselves?
Why should we only teach things that we find comfortable and familiar? Why should my love of A Streetcar Named Desire earn the play a place on my syllabus? I think you can make a case for saying that if a teacher is truly passionate about a certain piece of text or a certain topic, he or she might do a better job teaching with it. I just don’t think that personal taste should be the only deciding factor when it comes to choices about teaching.
More importantly, I think we should step outside our comfort zones every once in a while and ask ourselves, “Do the kids find this as engaging as I do?” and if the answer is no, “Is there another way that I could meet this curriculum expectation that the kids would find engaging?”
And why not think about letting our students teach us something for a change? After all, we’re in this for them aren’t we?
Photo credit: emdot