Authenticity and Opportunity

By // October 18, 2016

One of my very favorite things about teaching at LightHouse is the organic nature of how our classes develop. As a teacher, I enter the classroom with a set of goals in mind, but really the class curriculum is best developed in an emergent fashion. That is to say that I derive the content of the class from the interests and questions that my students present me with–the course content literally emerges from the discussions we have as a class and the interests of the teens. It’s challenging to teach in this way because you can’t pre-design a curriculum weeks or months in advance. But the advantage to developing emergent curricula is tremendous; teens see that their insights, questions, and ideas are driving the course content and it keeps the class inquisitive and engaged.

For me, a cornerstone of my teaching philosophy is authenticity. We’ve all heard ad nauseam about “teachable moments,” but there is validity in the idea that the opportunity to learn exists not just through instruction, but in the very conversations and experiences we have with one another (and how we process those moments). This is where being authentic comes into play. When topics come up in my classes, tutorials, or advising meetings, I seize the opportunity to unpack complicated issues and discuss them, even if it takes us in a different direction than we were headed. It is, in my opinion, perhaps the most effective use of a student’s face-time with a teacher or mentor–or their peers–to be able to talk about real issues as they occur.

In the past two days alone, I have had the opportunity to have conversations about privilege and power, the Black Lives Matter movement, sexism, gender roles and gender fluidity, racial stereotyping, and the two-party political system in this country. Did I mention that none of these were the direct topic of the class or tutorial I was teaching at the time they came up? Rather, all of these topics presented themselves through questions or side comments someone made, and they presented an opportunity to delve into critical topics that might not otherwise have been discussed.

Catherine often says we have the luxury of time at LightHouse, and she’s right. We, as teachers, are not preoccupied with worrying about test prep or about completing a certain number of chapters in a textbook by year’s end. We have the flexibility to switch gears from whatever we are doing and respond to questions, comments, and conflict in real time. I feel so fortunate as a teacher to have the luxury to create these kinds of spaces–and, in so doing, to be able to foster authentic learning opportunities. I believe that it has helped us to create the type of educational environment where teens feel heard, valued, and that their questions are important and worth discussing.

Who wouldn’t want to teach or learn in a place like that?

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