The Teacher is the Student, or Learning You Don’t Understand

The Teacher is the Student, or Learning You Don’t Understand

I was following along pretty well, I got the key spoken words. That, coupled with the highlighted text on the screen and the body langauge, I could tell the principal was telling this class of new students about key school policies. In particular she gave emphasis to the attendance regime and its consequences. But as soon as I looked down to write some notes her voice disappeared, at least the intelligible part. At best I heard a Scandinavian version of Charlie Brown’s teacher. I retrained my eyes to her and then I was back in the lecture. Huh, a distraction to my right – “what did she say?” I thought, it was only a moment but I was totally lost. Back to her, focus. And so it went.

When the 10 minute address was over, I was spent. And then came a flood of guilt and humility. Oh my God, how many of my students felt like that on a regular basis? My poor English Language Learner (ELL) students, how they must have suffered.

Like me, most teachers were really good at school and frankly enjoyed their time as students. Yet, most students aren’t good at doing school, they work to muddle through it. They can succeed but it’s hard, a heavy lift. Do I help ease that burden enough?

Persbråten Videregåendeskole (VGS) was my first visit to a Norwegian secondary school. Pupils (not students – that term is reserved for University) are aged 16-19. Essentially American high school grades 11-12, with a 13. VGS is optional, “but everybody does it.” The hitch is that students choose a VGS, and in Oslo that means competition. Some school are winners and some are not winners in the enrollment scheme.

The walk into Persbråten made me think of a small community college. It was a newer building, about 7 years old with a clean and purposeful design. The languid pace of the atrium in the morning reminded me more of a college than the frantic bustle of my home school. But the students there could have been mistaken for most any teens in an American high school.

Student cell phones stored at the whiteboard to preempt distraction

Student cell phones stored at the whiteboard to preempt distraction

I was pleasantly surprised about all I learned about VGS programming and issues. The principal and teachers were informative and gracious. As my travels take me across Norway I’m certain I will enrich and broaden those insights. But what I must remember, what I will remember was how it felt to not fully understand. It is a short path from not understanding to not caring and then to not attending…

Was today a gift? Yes. Isn’t it funny that some of the best gifts are surprises.

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