The line, “Everyone has to be willing to be a part of – and emotional space must be provided for – meeting in the middle as learners!” stood out to me the first time that I read Teachers and Students Meet in the Middle… as Learners! It brought to mind some of my experiences as a non-traditional student, a woman in her late 30s attending classes with students who were primarily in their early 20s. Each of my classes contained at least one other non-trad (or “retrads,” as a friend of mine refers to himself), but we were in the minority. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter was that every student was trying to learn the same material and regardless of age, we still had the same tasks before us. In the beginning I was a little hesistant about wading right into a group of the younger students, but as time went by and the classes gelled, we got used to each other and learned that each of us had something to offer; we could help each other. But for me to get to that point, I had to open myself up to possibility that I would not be accepted. For the risk that I took, I received a thousandfold reward because I did gain acceptance and managed to make friends with the younger people, which also resulted in many good learning experiences for all parties involved.
I have trouble making a story short, but the point that I am trying to convey is that it has been my experience that to learn something new I have to allow or force myself to take a few steps outside my comfort zone. Then, a few more and a few more. Not only was I a little uneasy about the younger students, I also had to learn to deal with professors, some of whom were around my age. I did worry about making a fool of myself, but most were just glad to have a student who was truly interested in the material and participated in the class. Sometimes I did get things wrong and then I learned the right answers.
Okay, I have traveled down a few side streets trying to get to the main idea which is that I think the relationship between teacher and learner is sort of personal. The learner has to be open to learning new things even at the risk of a bit of discomfiture; the teacher in turn should keep in mind some of his or her struggles with learning and that it is not always pleasant. I remember this feeling when I see some of my students struggling and unwilling to speak up in class. This is where we build our ZPD.
On the other hand, I have students who are assertive and have plenty of questions – some of which I cannot answer. But if conditions are right and I feel that doing so will lead to a deeper learning experience, I turn to the class computer and we search for the answers. Sometimes the students can answer each others’ questions. The point is no one has all the answers and as long as our curiosity is rejuvenated and learning is active, it doesn’t matter who is doing the most teaching. Sometimes I make projects of the questions.
I had redefine myself to make the needed transition to fit into college, but I did and I know that we can learn from the younger generation and they can learn from us. I have learned about podcasts, lime-wire, and numerous other software programs from my students. Thanks to this class, though, I am teaching them a few things. We are currently working on VoiceThreads and they are enjoying it. Wikis are next.