Sage! Off the stage!

For those who have been doing this teaching lark for awhile, wouldn’t it be curious to put your early students in a room with your current ones to compare notes? Curious and terrifying.

No doubt all past and present students would have criticisms. I still haven’t mastered the 24 hour marking turnaround, among other ‘work ons’. The biggest surprise to the earliest students might be that I raise my voice less. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I used that sure-to-fail behaviour management strategy.

But another marked change, led by the arrival of technology in the classroom, is that any aspirations to attain ‘expert’ status have been surrendered and I got the hell out of the way.

Yip, I relinquished the ‘sage on the stage’ role to become the ‘guide on the side’ or the ‘meddler in the middle.’ The appearance of these labels in education circles has helped me recognise how I have evolved as a teacher.

Example? Dozens and dozens come to mind and none of them are any more special than what colleagues in the building and those around the country are delivering daily.

For what it is worth here is one example: my Year 12s studied Jean Anouilh’s drama Antigone in term 2 and 3. This was a text I had not taught before. In the past, ahead of their reading, I would have gone to great lengths to be confident in the context and historical background of the text and then share this with the students early in the unit. In my early classrooms this would have probably meant screeds of notes across the whiteboard—left side, then right side, then left side again—and if I’m honest, little follow up after that other than an implied expectation that they ‘know it’.

Fast forward 20 years (and it did go that quickly for me) and the approach is completely different. I asked the class what would we need to consider if we wanted to understand the context and cultural background of Anouilh’s Antigone. They threw ideas forward and I scribbled them on the whiteboard: gender roles, links to other texts, author’s education, author’s politics, religion of the time, theatre in France, important events in the author’s life, arts in France, life in France during WWII … it finished up as quite a decent number of suggestions.

With their help, we percolated the brainstorm to a list offering good coverage, and divided the topics among the class.  24 hours later we had a Google site with each topic as a page. This became a valuable reference tool for the ongoing study.  And each student was an ‘expert’ in their particular area and this informed their confident participation in particular discussions of the text. My own learning alongside them was considerable.

It isn’t always a case of Let’s Google that! as the construction of the Antigone website could be seen to be—they did have to critically evaluate what they chose to include on the site and were expected to put it into their own words. Often it is a matter of asking the right questions and letting students explore the hard copy resources that they have in front of them, knowing this has to be distilled to a product of some meaningful sort.

All my classes in 2015 have completed variations of this with live presentations, slides, prezis, podcasts, static images and the still valuable written report or essay. They are often on their feet presenting back to the class what they have deduced, decided, discovered or disproved. This approach through the year was telling when it was time to complete the Year 13 Oral Presentations at the end of term 3. They looked comfortable. And they did well.

I’m no longer ‘delivering’ content, but helping them to collect, evaluate, collate, construct and communicate content.

Most days, they teach me. And that makes me too busy learning to have time to raise my voice.