Tag Archives: Empathy for the learner

Confessions of a Nerd

(Apologies for my recent absence. We’ve been super busy of late.)

I admire star athletes. They embrace new challenges and push themselves to achieve their goals, sometimes despite enormous obstacles. They’re amazing, inspiring, exemplary.

And I have never, ever, wanted to follow in their footsteps.

The challenges I pursue tend to be more cerebral than physical. In other words, I’m pretty much a nerd.

Confession time: Back when I was a student, I actually referred to the syllabus once in a while. I studied every night. I read everything I was supposed to read, and I even occasionally searched for more information. I started my papers well in advance of the due-date. I loved to learn (most things) and I developed good study habits almost naturally. If something was a bit challenging, I just studied harder.

I suspect that most of my fellow educators could make similar confessions.

I’m grateful that I’ve found my tribe, but I also realize that our kinship presents a problem: when we’re surrounded by fellow nerds, it’s easy to forget that we’re in the minority. Just like champion athletes, we’re a small subset of humans who get immense satisfaction out of achieving something that most people don’t care about nearly as much.

I’d be miffed if folks expected me to become a jock. So I probably don’t have any business expecting every learner to become a nerd. Right?

Each one of my learners has a unique background, unique goals, and unique challenges. My course is probably not the most important thing in their lives right now. I’m not the star of their personal scripts.

So instead of lamenting how little of their attention they give me, maybe I should find ways to engage their attention. Maybe I should find ways to communicate essentials within their constraints of time and energy. Maybe I should respect their needs and try to teach to them, not at them.

Maybe I need to remember that I’m not here to teach subjects, I’m here to teach students.*

Who knows? If I try to meet them halfway, maybe they’ll be willing to respond in kind.


*I wish I could remember where I first saw that statement, so I could give proper credit.

(by Rissa Karpoff)

Advertisements