When I graduated from college it was shocking to realize how little I knew. I was not equipped to handle most everyday problems. My math classes had filled me with knowledge but I wasn’t able to apply it to calculate the size of stair stringers that I was trying to build. My bike and car repair skills continued to be a trial and error affair. I was slowly becoming a better cook with the help of cookbooks and friends who shared recipes. When life felt out of balance school had given me few resources of wisdom and insight that I could turn to.
This feeling of having a degree but not being able to thrive in the world influenced me to begin working as a carpenter. My days building cabinets and renovating houses challenged me in ways I had not been challenged during my academic career. Instead of having math knowledge but not being able to squarely frame out a room I was forced to solve problems on the spot, using both my mind and my hands. I learned to see and experience things more deeply. A slab of oak could be strategically crafted into a polished product or, without planning it could be run against a blade in a way that tears it into a splintery mass.
The learning that I was doing on site was engrossing and consuming. I often couldn’t sleep when thinking about the next steps and strategies in a cabinetry project. (Yes, it felt kind of absurd to work on a project all day and then stay up thinking about what I was going to do when I continued work on it the next day!)
As a teacher I use my personal experiences to inform the learning I structure for my students. My units and lessons begin with questions that challenge us to examine assumptions and texts, and discover new ways of thinking about ourselves and the world around us.
I would be deeply disappointed if I learned that a student felt that our studies had no meaning for them. The curriculum I design is meant to bring us deep into outside sources and then deeper into ourselves and our own realities. When we study the Industrial Revolution we then examine the manufactured goods that surround us and investigate modern day sweatshops. When we read Their Eyes Were Watching God we then look at issues of language in our own lives and students write language autobiographies where they examine the politics of language and identity.
Learning is never separate from who we are. The most powerful learning occurs when the issues matter to us and when the skills, insights, and application are discovered, not handed out.