Who is Actually the Teacher?: Alli Bernard

This summer, seven of our undergraduate teacher education students and one intrepid faculty member are spending a month in Peru studying the educational system and discussing their own philosophies of education. They are writing and reflecting on their journey, and we are following along! Read on for excerpts and blurbs from Dr. Gibson and the students’ blogs. You can read more on Marquette Meets Peru and check back for updates here.  

Alli Bernard

Teachers cannot exist without the students, and vice versa. It is through an equal relationship that teachers and students need each other to reflect on and continue to grow in their material.

For much of my life, it was instilled in me that the teacher is the person who stands at the front of the room dictating formulas and other seemingly useless information for students just to regurgitate for a test at a later date. Even some of my college classes are run this way. However, the two days I have spent at Fé y Alegría have disrupted these thoughts and made me think more critically on who the teacher in school settings, and what their role actually is.

On Monday, I was in an art class which was more of a theater class. Students in the first block were essentially left to their own devices and went to practice scenes for a play. Students in the second block were working with body movements and being comfortable with their bodies. We watched a lot of practice with actions such as continuous movement and how the students reacted to it. Being 12 years old, there was a lot of apprehension about being silly and moving in silly ways, especially coupled with the insecurity that comes with puberty. The teacher, Patricia, did an excellent job combating this, by showing students that they did not have to be concerned because she too was engaging in the silly body movements- hers were even more exaggerated than the students. She showed them that it was okay to be silly and do motions that they were unaccustomed to. By doing this, Patricia stepped into the role of a student again by showing them that there was nothing to be embarrassed about. She stepped out of her role as an authority figure who was potentially strict or stern, and instead transformed into the role of a student with the kids in a way that allowed them to feel more comfortable. In this instance, there was no clear student or teacher. As they were discussing different terms, Patricia had students talk with each other and give their ideas, instead of simply feeding them definitions.

On Tuesday, I was in an English class with a very nice woman named Maria. This was not an English grammar or literature class, but rather a class that was taught in English. The first block consisted of students finishing and then presenting projects on the three regions of Peru (coast, jungle, and highlands). Maria told me that students completed their own research on these regions, including themes such as food, weather, and tourism. The expectation was that they would teach the class about these regions, instead of Maria. The second block was more presentations, but it was about holidays and traditions. This had a similar feel to the first block; students picked the holiday they wanted to discuss and were tasked with researching when it was, who/what is involved, why it is celebrated, and all of those basic questions. These classes were geared toward practicing English and public speaking, but also had an academic learning aspect attached.

Through Maria’s class specifically, it became apparent to me that she views her students as just as capable of teaching each other as she is, otherwise she would not trust them to literally be the ones standing at the front of the room teaching. Because of this, I think (and probably Maria does too) that it is not just the teacher who has the knowledge and is all knowing. By allowing students to conduct their own research and teach, Maria is showing that she believes her students can be the same keeper and sharer of knowledge that she can be. Teachers cannot exist without the students, and vice versa. It is through an equal relationship that teachers and students need each other to reflect on and continue to grow in their material. By doing what Maria did, she also placed responsibility on her students to understand that classmats would rely on each other for material. By backing away and not acting as the all-knowing teacher, these teachers become more of a guide and a way for students to ensure they are on the correct track. Obviously there needs to be some teacher guidance to ensure that students are not completely off track, but for the most part much of what I have seen is more student oriented.

I talked with Maria during a short break, and she expressed to me that she enjoys the student teaching more because it allows for students to be creative and have a sya in what they are learning. Although she structures the larger themes (such as the topic of research), she found that students are more likely to respond positively to teaching by their peers. This connects with our discussion about reflection, because it further reinforced the need for teachers to reflect and learn about what does or does not work within the classroom.

Much of this goes back to Freire’s banking system and disrupting the idea of who has the knowledge and who is simply supposed to learn. Teachers and students should ideally exist in a relationship where both can be learn and know. Maria told me that she enjoys doing student led projects because it also allows for the students to teach her about what they learn, because as she admitted, even she does not know everything. This also connects to the differences between knowing and learning, which is where knowing is more geared toward facts and memorization while learning is a continuous action that does not stop when a test is taken. What I like about the projects I watched today was that Maria clearly chose topics that were relevant to the students and their lives. Instead of just spitting out facts about the coast, she instead allowed them a space to learn about it and to teach each other. This freedom and understanding that teaching, knowledge, and learning have changed allows for students to feel more comfortable in classes because they know that there is some freedom awarded to them. It also piques student’s interests because they can choose what to learn about, instead of simply listening to a teacher drone on.

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