by Rob Ferguson, Teaching Faculty Member and Co-Chair, Department of Recreation and Tourism Management, Faculty of Management, VIU
What to say about teaching and learning? For me, linking these two terms with ‘and’ has always seemed somewhat problematic. The English language seems to fall short here in capturing the essence of teaching and learning by implying that they are two distinct mental endeavours. I cannot think of a time when I was teaching but not learning, nor a time when I was learning but not teaching…even if only to myself. For example, I had the adventure of teaching English language skills to young children in Japan and despite the language barrier I was successful in contributing to their basic understanding of the ABC’s. They in turn passed on to me a basic understanding of virtually every rude word one could say in Japanese and more importantly how children, regardless of culture, are an ever abundant source of joy and perspective.
I would be remiss within this discussion not to highlight one of my early teachers named Cory. Cory was a child involved in a recreational day camp I led during my formative years where I was learning how to lead and developing teaching skills. I remember Cory as a cheerful, bright and an energetic kid who was also without the use of legs and confined to a large bulky wheelchair. One sunny afternoon my fellow leaders and I brought our charges to the playground. I positioned Cory under a large fir tree with some crafts and started to walk away to supervise the rest of thegroup. Cory politely asked me where I was going, when he heard my reply he said, ‘but I want to go on the swings’. Dilemma, panic, uncertainty. ‘Cory how do you suppose I make that happen?’ I asked. ‘Pick me up dummy there is still one swing free’ he replied. Since that beautiful sunny afternoon I have always tried to recognize ability first and avoid accepting the falsehood of diminished potential within myself and in others. Lesson learned Cory, thank-you.
I have also come to appreciate the truth in the phrase ‘the more you learn the less you know’ and I have been blessed that my students, colleagues, friends, family, and others frequently remind me that there is much I do not know. This self-awareness fuels my inquisitive nature, my yearning to ‘figure it out’ and my desire to be of some use to those around me. I do not suggest here that teaching and learning by reduced to a desperate search for pragmatic utility for either teacher or learner, as I am convinced that the usefulness or impact that all educators strive for is beyond the classroom, beyond the assignment and beyond the grade. It is a place where utility may be difficult to perceive to those with little imagination, but that none-the-less makes our world a better place to live.
I’m writing this submission while looking out over B.C.’s Central Coast and enjoying the warm hospitality of Bella Bella, home to the Heiltsuk First Nation whom are hosting Tribal Journeys 2014 or as it is known in the local tongue, ‘Qatuwas’, meaning ‘People Gathering Together’. This major cultural event is a significant undertaking and I have been one of the ‘teachers’ privileged to be involved in helping local young adults in acquiring the skills needed to support this worthy community endeavor. The end of my two-week community teaching experience is quickly approaching and I have been busy doing my job as a ‘teacher’ by leading daily seminars and one-on-one tutorials with my ‘learners’. During this time I have grown ever more aware that in many respects I am a babe in the woods when it comes to fully appreciating the rich history, personal strength and cultural resilience of those whom I am educating.
I cannot wait to teach class tomorrow, as I’m sure my students will have another great lesson for me to learn.