I was presenting at a conference the other day. Actually, I’m being a tiny bit modest– I was delivering a keynote to about 300 post-secondary instructors. I was honoured to have been invited, and chuffed that my talk went quite well. (At least, that’s how I feel until I see the video recording….)
I was speaking about the changes to our curriculum, and general changes in practice, and how, particularly, those changes are going to affect post secondary institutions welcoming our learners over the next few years.
It is very different presenting to adults than to children– adults tend to be quiet… almost freakishly quiet. And sometimes it’s hard to read the crowd and know if you are hitting the right notes. But there are other universal truths about being a teacher that never leave you.
My talk was to have taken 45 minutes, and while I had prepared and practiced and primped and tweaked my slides, I had not actually timed myself delivering the talk. My internal teacher clock that knows the imminent end of the 50 minute period is nigh still functions. I looked at the clock on my second to last slide and I was bang on time.
But the best universal teaching-truth came when a fellow approached me, and as I smiled in greeting, smiled back in a very particular fashion. Even though this was a adult man, even, actually, an adult man approaching middle age, with school-aged kids of his own, he smiled at me in that way I recognized. Teachers know it, whether it’s in a grocery store at the weekend, or on the sidewalk during summer vacation, days or years after having a student in one’s class. It’s the look on a child’s face that shines with the message “I know you, and I don’t know if you recognize me, but HERE I AM!!”. You will be forgiven if you can’t remember the name– although again, teachers have tricks for that too– but you always know that THAT grin and slightly abashed look is that of a former student. And so, I knew this fully – formed human had at some point been a student of mine, but I hadn’t quite placed him yet. I said , “Hey! How are You!?” and the abashed look grew into amazement and the grin to a wide smile of delight and he responded “You remember me!?”. That’s when all the teacher tricks come out, and my memory for all my learners, which borders on the savant, is challenged. The pieces fall into place, and I can remember the campus (Yes…) the building (Yes!) and that his first name begins with …. (YES!!) and I am secretly amazed and delighted, for I never knew this man as a child– he was one of the adult learners I had taught at University, probably 5 or 6 years earlier. But here’s the thing. As soon as he knew I legitimately recognized him, his response reminded me of a lesson I keep getting: Relationship is all. I may or may not have been his favourite prof, or taught his most or least favourite class, but what was important was that I care about my learners. That that relationship we form in the class extends forever and everywhere. And all learners, regardless of age or situation when I meet them, understand that they will live forever in my head.
I feel like my whole audience that day sort of understood that — even if they didn’t agree with what I had to say, my message was being delivered on behalf of my learners who would become their learners- that I insisted they care for them as I do, and relationship is the only way to do that.
I also was reminded that no matter how we grow, what we experience and how long we live, we are all secretly 10 years old at heart.