I did not realize until I got to graduate school that confusion in my work was actually a positive thing rather than evidence of my shortcomings. In my study of history only uncertainty led to real progress. Although it is a little daunting to think so, I am beginning to believe the same may be true of teaching in the 21st century.
In working with students on research papers, I am trying to encourage them to work through the problems in their projects. Those who craft a research question seeking to avoid possible trouble spots, also avoid complexity and the growth that comes from working through it. If they are not confused and/or stuck at least once, they are not digging deep enough. True meaning comes from wrestling with a broad range of evidence, digging past the obvious, and considering anything that might challenge what you believe to be true. It is only through honestly weighing all of the evidence that you can really know what you believe. Questioning comes at a cost – direction, certainty and confidence.
Teaching can feel the same way at times. I have been diving into some new activities and areas this year – arranging Skype sessions for classes, creating student and class blogs, connecting my students with other students. I have been taking time to explore a vast new array of sources and resources. I am developing a PLN so that professional development is continuous. I am teaching more collaboratively than I have before. Still, there is a nagging voice in my head that reminds me of all of the activities and topics I used to do that I no longer seem to have time to include. I am not certain of the payoff, and I do not always feel effective. While I would like to think that my research analogy would hold here, I am afraid that would be too simplistic. It would imply that once I figure it out I will be fine. More and more I think that teaching will require the courage to face the challenges, embrace the endless possibilities, seek clarity and make game time decisions using my best judgment about what the students in front of me need most. And there are likely to be as many answers as there are students.
What I am most sure about is that while I may have the answers or the formula for a student or a class period, I should not write them down with permanent marker.