We have all heard it. Learning is messy. If you are a teacher, you have probably said it to your students, when their frustration level was at its highest. Learning is messy. Sometimes it is tedious. Sometimes, a question seems simple enough, but in the search for the answer, another question arises that must be answered first. Sometimes, the initial question is just the tip of the iceberg of questions with (or without) answers that plummet deeper into knowledge on a topic than one could imagine. The seeker could go the way of the Titanic, being crushed, broken in half, and left to sink. Learning is messy! The seeker could run down the rabbit hole of unending questions and get lost. Teachers see this in their students and remind them – learning is messy. It will be ok. The teacher will help. As a teacher, I likely focused on my teaching and their learning. Often, I would try to shift the iceberg picture they were feeling so acutely. Going down a rabbit hole into Wonderland can be far more preferable. Just as frustrating at times, but a bit more fun, than say, the Titanic.
The reality is, however, I am no different from them. Learning is just as messy for me. I’ve been given a project in my new job. I have been feeling the Titanic analogy rather acutely. It was a visit form a former student today that helped my perspective shift from the Titanic to Wonderland. As I tried to explain briefly what my iceberg was about, she looked a little amused. I realized that I sounded just like my students do when they reach that level of frustration in learning. At the moment this clicked with me, she said something to the effect of “Wow, you’ve learned a lot in a very short time about this.”
I’m a Learner, too, not just a Teacher, and learning is messy. So now, armed with my Figment mug of tea, I will jump back into the rabbit hole and continue this journey…into Wonderland. Perhaps I will meet the caterpillar who fervently demands to know who I am. I am a teacher, but I am also a learner…and well, learning is messy. And I do love being on both ends of it.
As I begin this exciting dive into educational cyberspace, I am finding myself a bit conflicted. I love this new job. I love the journey I am taking into building an online identity. I love the ideas that are sparked as I experience the process. I have also had moments of feeling lost. Yesterday, for the first time since 1995, I did not spend the first day of the semester amongst my students. Whether I was in the classroom with them or preparing to be at some point that week, I have always been with students – sitting in the lobby of the building with them, greeting them, or having lunch or a cup of tea with those who walk by my open office door if I actually decide to be in there for any length of time. I would reach out to this experience in subconscious ways I was not aware of until this past weekend and particularly yesterday, where those tentacles reaching for that connection seemed to be flailing. Sure, I saw their posts on Facebook about being back, and I am on a campus where there are students, but something in me felt somehow disconnected. I would reach for the computer to pull up the syllabus for the upcoming topics, look for the e-mail with the classroom schedule to put it on my calendar…I don’t have a syllabus or a schedule to check, because I’m not coordinating or teaching a class. I felt a huge void, and it was painful. Reconciling that deep feeling of loss with that of the excitement of my new role in the University proved to be exhausting.
Then today I realized….
I can teach, anyone, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing. I can make that as formal or informal as I’d like. I can develop a formal course for credit with measurable objectives for a specific audience and go through the process of curriculum committee approval. OR…I can start a thread on Reddit. I can create a MOOC. I can post things I am learning about in my new job on Facebook or Tweet about them, and some will learn, and some will teach me, as my students always have.
This likely seems like an obvious thing to many people, and those who know me might be thinking that I have always been one seeking innovative ideas for teaching and wanting to try them out, but the sudden realization of the mental constraints I was wrapped in and the bursting from those shackles into educational freedom was exhilarating!
Education is everywhere, in everything. Every interaction can teach something. The online world has given us endless possibilities for learning from and teaching each other. And I love that.