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The Student Becomes the Teacher (by Richard Freedberg)

I have learned more from my students than they have ever learned from me.
The Student Becomes the Teacher (by Richard Freedberg)

I was a student. I became a teacher.

We all were students first and some became teachers. School was where we learned. Teachers in school taught us. We sat in a classroom and the teacher was at the front. All over the world, the picture is the same. We are taught and they teach. Kindergarten to graduate school, the same picture. That seems to be the definition of education: we are taught, and they teach.

Grandparents are teachers also. Farmers are teachers. Mothers are teachers. Nature is a teacher. Books are teachers. In fact, we are learning every single day, every single moment. Everybody, everywhere, at all times is a student. We do not stop learning.

I have learned more from my students than they have ever learned from me. What do I mean? I taught theater arts for 39 years in an international school. My students came from 60 countries and spoke more than 50 languages. From Finland, China, Libya, Greece, the USA, Iceland, Ivory Coast…. They babbled together in English. Some spoke their father’s language AND their mother’s language, AND the languages of their grandparents AND English. They taught each other how to live and learn.

Their life stories were amazing to me. They had “special” holidays from their countries, and we celebrated together. They had different ways of honoring their families, and their teachers. I would stop my lessons just to listen to them answer a question with many different views. “Tell me the story of CINDERELLA,” I would ask the 10 year olds. If there were 20 students, there were 20 variations. The final version was wild, crazy, lovely, enchanting, hypnotizing, even dark and dangerous.

The older students translated MOUNTAIN LANGUAGE by Harold Pinter into Dutch, Hebrew, Korean, Arabic, Japanese, Hebrew, and French and performed the play in all those languages at the same time. One actor spoke in a language while the other answered him in another language. The students showed us teachers that language and culture go hand in hand. When you teach, you should consider the culture of the students being taught. The teachers became the students.

What is a “closed mind?” Does learning bounce off a closed mind? What is a teacher with a closed mind? What is the lesson a closed mind teaches? My students taught me two important lessons in teaching:

  • Be Careful Not To Judge
  • Keep An Open Mind

And so, the teacher becomes the student.