HOW LEARNING TO BE A PRIMARY SCHOOL TEACHER TAUGHT ME IT’S CHILDREN WHO TEACH

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By Peter Wingate

As a student studying to be a teacher (I’m completing a Masters in Primary Teaching/Education at UniMelb), the adage that wisdom often comes ‘from the mouths of babes’ fascinates me. The idea that each child, through the simple gift of their unique and unlearned perspective, can teach adults, haunts me like my own school principal did back when I was in school (and a trip to see him meant you were a ‘naughty child’ and would take home a rainbow of bum-welts as a souvenir of the meeting).

The student-as-teacher concept might seem at odds with (if not, a threat to) the role of a teacher, but, for me, the educator/pupil relationship as it unfolds and evolves is one of mutual learning and development, and the great joy of the profession.

I’ll admit I tend to fail at the task of adequately explaining how I apparently learn from a classroom of raucous children (just blame my 20th century schooling) but here goes…

On more occasions in the classroom than I’d care to admit, students with no context, concept or understanding of the subject I am expertly ‘teaching’ them will display a confidence and engaged depth of understanding that almost makes me feel like an intellectual inferior. They ‘take it to the next level’ and are often able to make meaningful relationships with newly introduced concepts beyond what I’d expect of an adult. It is as if, bereft of a lifetime of innumerable facts, fiction and, in turn, a fixed way of looking at the world, children are at an advantage when it comes to soaking up new and important information. A child’s relationship with the unknown is yet to be tainted by assumption, presumption, intimidation and the fear of looking like a moron.

While we may have a head full of learned knowledge, ideas and skills, each and every child must rely on human instinct, intuition a faith in the yet-to-be known… which many would argue consider to be of a deeper and richer educational and intellectual significance.

The concept of the child with something to teach educator may seem fanciful (particularly from the perspective of an educator charged with equipping each of their unique students with the cognitive currency needed to succeed in our society) but it is actually the unmanipulated, unpretentious blank-canvas unique to a young child that inspires but also humbles.

THE WINGATE DUMBOCRACY: Peter Wingate immigrated to Yarraville from the leafy East before it was even trendy and likes to spend his days studying education (don’t get an education, just study it), cooking, avoiding making art, and pondering fantasies like living in a representative democracy that is one and, having his hands around the neck of <insert name of particularly inane politician here>.

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