On Labor Day this year, I checked off a life goal. I walked across Mackinac Bridge. By dawn, thousands of us had gathered at the foot of the bridge.
“How does this work?” someone beside me asked.
But I didn’t know either, this being my first time. And then, far ahead of us a man climbed a ladder with a bullhorn.
“Now we’ll find out,” said my fellow walker.
And for the next ten minutes, the bullhorn man explained. At least, that’s what I think he was doing. But I’m not sure because the sound of the bullhorn was too weak to reach back into the crowd. Still, I was amazed at how people kept leaning forward, trying to hear.
“What’s he saying?” my new friend asked. But I shrugged. And when he climbed down, most of us were still uninitiated. He had, however, covered the material.
And I’ve found that, in the classroom, there’s something secure about covering curriculum. I liked to map out the year, to know that by the end, I had led students through the necessary lectures and texts, that I had stayed true to the syllabus, that I had taught the course.
Only sometimes students didn’t seem to hear, like my meaning was too weak for them to hear. They stared at me blankly or answered by rote without seeming to understand. I was like the bullhorn man at the bridge, speaking but not in ways my students could hear. I needed to use their learning styles, their experiences, their skills to help them engage material, not be so concerned with what came out of my mouth. What mattered most was what happened in their brains, not what happened in mine. What counted was the meaning they uncovered, not the material I covered.