Monday, February 06, 2006

Remembering watershed moment as a student

When I was a student, through high school, collge, and most of law school, I mostly performed to the specifications of the teacher/professor of the moment. I did what I thought they wanted or needed me to do. I aimed to please them, and mostly succeeded pretty well. I was a pretty good student.

There was a brief interlude, though, between college and law school, when I was considering studying linguistics. I actually was accepted to graduate school in Chicago, but for personal reasons, was reluctant to relocate. So, I tried to find courses at the local university that would take me to the kind of thinking I wanted to do, anyway. Unfortunately, the course of study didn't pan out, but I did take some interesting classes along the way. One of them was an art class.

We were working on linoleum cuts. This was difficult work; you had to carve away all the background from your image. I worked away until my hands were very tired. I showed the professor what I had accomplished and asked if it was good enough. She astonished me by replying, "Are you satisfied?" I had never been asked such a question by a teacher before. I had never, never been asked to decide for myself if my work was to my own satisfaction, in all the years I had attended school! What a concept! I was just stunned.

To some extent, this is something I try to do for my own students. Very soon, they will be professionals. They will need to judge this for themselves every day. I want them to decide for themselves if a worksheet is good enough. I grade the larger papers in the class; I have to assign a grade somehow. But the day-to-day discussion in the class is based on their worksheets; notes they make upon examining the materials for the week, guided by my questions. I am thrilled when students comment that they went back after class discussion to test something that came up, or look at something they missed. So many of my students are so far ahead of where I was at their point in life!

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