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I was driving down the highway on my way to my first teaching job, I was so scared and I asked myself, “How does a learner teach a learner?” It came to me from what I was told from nōhkom [my grandma] that I can only teach what I know, I can’t pretend to know something I don’t know anything about. I decided that I must follow procedure of the things I was taught in university for now until I get the hang of teaching, but ultimately to just be myself. There is no point for me to try pretend to be someone else, like a robot teacher that just came out of the teacher making factory. Besides most people can spot someone talking rubbish and I didn’t want to be that guy. When I first started teaching I had no idea I was utilizing theories within my classroom. Never did I get up in the morning and ask myself, “Okay Mr. Cook, what theory should we use today on these kids?” I’m just learning the terminologies of learning theories; behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism and connectivism. I actually had to look up definitions for dummies to better understand them. After reading and having a little bit better understanding of these theories, I know I have incorporated them all in my teaching.
I know what I know from what I know. What I mean by that is that I’ve been surrounded by those theories of knowledge and learning all my life, as everyone else that is reading this probably has. All my teachers while growing up have prepared me for where I am right now. Some theories worked for certain things and some didn’t. All my aunties and uncles were the behaviourists. Every time I would do something for them they would reward me with either money or something else of value. My dad was the cognitivist. He would show me things once and expect me to know it. Nimosōm [grandpa] was a constructivist. He always took me out to the lake to teach me how to fish, make fire, fillet, and net. Everything he taught me was hands on. He passed what he knew to me and taught extra tricks to make some of those skills easier. My mom was the connectivist. She had me go outside and play with my cousins to go explore the world around me, meet others and learn from my surroundings. All these teachings molded me into who I am today. I do that with my students. I try make things as real as I can. Every class is different. I teach with what feel I get when I’m with the students. I know every student is different and comes from different perspectives of knowledge and learning. As educators, we are faced with pre-molded sculptures of children and all we are doing is adding the molding pieces on to them of what we think they need to be a better mold in end up some day to be a work of art.
Knowledge is what you know or believe to be true. Throughout my years of learning and teaching the Cree language I have always had this connection with the knowledge and language keepers wherever I work. They are my mentors and they give me guidance with what needs to be taught in their community. They show me roads and the bumps that come with it that they have travelled on before. I enjoy learning from them. I was always told not to be shy and to ask questions if I don’t understand something. A lot of my questions that I ask are about certain words, or why things are in the Indigenous cultures, because I want to understand so I can better explain when the time comes when I have to explain it to someone else. There is a common answer that keeps coming up if and when the Elders can’t explain something, they would say, “I believe it to be true”. They never claim to know exactly but this is what they believe to be true as they understand it. I believe this is the same way we educate theories or no theories, we can label our methods however we want but it’s what we know. We will probably never fully understand the human mind and why people do what they do, nor do we have the time to understand, we can only simply take the moments we share with young minds and share what we know to the best of our abilities from being educated by other educated minds.
Image from: www.seanwes.com
Which theory works best? I think they are all good theories for different cases. Have I shifted my methods of teaching since I started teaching? Definitely! I will continue to learn and teach what I know and share what I learn. An Elder once said: “There is no right way and there is no wrong way, there are just different ways.” I believe strongly in this statement in teaching. There will always be different ways. It is up to us as educators to decide what we want to share and teach.