Love of Learning… born, made or cultivated?

This is my first ‘Story of an Educator’ post. Enjoy…

This is our treehouse on the farm where I had many happy memories. Still there but now on the ground from a wind storm.

Growing up in the ‘middle of nowhere’ in upstate New York some might have characterized me as a quiet wild child.  The youngest of 6 children, half of my brothers and sisters were married and moved away from the farm before I was 10 years old. Summers were spent running through the fields and forests, climbing trees, exploring streams, dreaming, and pretending to be mighty explorers.  (Some of those days led to interesting, if not dangerous situations, but I lived and learned through every adventure- more about those memories in a later post.)

In school I struggled and didn’t really ‘get reading’ until the 6th grade. It was then that the world opened up to me in the form of books and I began exploring the world through their pages.

Why have I started my story here?  Because I believe that those summers running wild through the fields, using my imagination and the natural world around me to create my own stories was the beginning of shaping me as the educator that I am today.

Without even knowing it those summers started the spark that would burn into a love of learning.  I also had some great teachers along the way.  As I struggled through school I experienced the teachers who didn’t get me, and those who nurtured the learning spirit in my soul. After learning to read and seeing it as an opening to the world I would still go out for great adventures, but sometimes they turned into climbing the tree and staying up there all afternoon with a Nancy Drew Mystery.

After spending a year in high school (ok, maybe it wasn’t the whole year- it just seemed like it) diagramming sentences and trying to figure out the relevance of such a task, I was given the gift of a wonderful English teacher: Mrs. Bloomfield.  She was the one who introduced me to the world of classical literature.  She made Shakespeare come alive, what might seem like an impossible task for a classroom full of teenagers who were mostly children of farmers and laborers in a small rural community.  That year we devoured play after play, exploring and digesting the wonderful language, intricate characters and stories of love, murder and greed. We also explored other classical pieces of literature that year but it really wasn’t about the stories, but rather the love of reading Mrs. Bloomfield showed us and cultivated in her students.

True educators know that it isn’t about the knowledge they give, but about the knowledge and thinking that students build with their guidance.  They also know, like Mrs. Bloomfield, that modeling the love of learning is contagious.

After graduating from high school I went to a 2 year college and after those two years I ran into Mrs. Bloomfield again.  As we were catching up I told her I was done with school.  Without skipping a beat she said, “No, I don’t believe that. You will never be done with school or with learning. You thrive on it, mark my words, you will return to school because learning is a part of you.”  Of course as a 19 year old I thought she was out of her mind, clearly getting senile, or more accurately probably just being kind. I wish she were still alive today so I could sit in her living room surrounded by books and tell her how so right she was.

So, do I digress from my story? No, I merely am setting the stage. A love of learning, and the heart of a true educator is not born or manufactured.  They are cultivated by the experiences in their lives as they grow up.

Why this story, and why now?  Because more and more I feel we are losing great educators who have a love of learning and are frustrated with the state of education today. I am saddened when I hear teachers who are losing their love of learning, or have forgotten the joy of creativity and exploration in their classroom in the era of high stakes testing and performance reviews that reduce learning to a rubric.

I am also realistic. The system we have now is what we have. As a leader there are regulations and requirements that we can’t ignore.  I would argue though that what we can do is not give up on authentic learning. Balance is key, in life as well as in education. Do what you need to do, but don’t forget to do what students need to do as well.

My next installment to ‘Story of an Educator’: “Coming out of my shell”  Stay tuned and in the meantime please feel free to comment below to share whether your love of learning is born, made, or cultivated….

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