This morning I was again looking through my Philosophy of Education paper and I found two paragraphs that I had written in 1986 as I described thoughts I had had as a conversational English teacher for Berlitz School of Languages:

“At Berlitz we learned that to teach a language you must build a relationship with the student. Somehow that student must want to talk to you. We know how to teach people a minimum of vocabulary, but what is more important is the rapport that you build.”

“Many of my students ask me, ‘When will I be able to really speak English?’ When they ask that question, I know that they are on the wrong track and I try to make them see that they should use learning English as a communicative tool and not for quantifying and marking down how much they know.”

As I reflect on the work I was doing the last two days in a middle school, it starts connecting to what I wrote long ago and have continued to believe is important in teaching. I was a visitor in sixth grade classrooms. I had organized the students into groups of three and after giving them a Problem of the Week (PoW) I asked them to talk about it using as much math vocabulary as possible. The sixth grade teachers I was working with had told me they were finishing a unit on probability and the PoW we had chosen was on that topic. I was encouraging students to use math as a communicative tool and they were able to successfully have conversations with each other about math.

I wonder if the teachers the whole time I was doing this with their students, had in the back of their minds “When will my students really speak Probability?” Were they thinking about quantifying and marking down how much their students know or were they listening to how the students were communicating?

In our climate of testing can teachers ever be a little “out of control” or is it only true that important learning is, must be, and can only be the result and product of teaching. Is what we learn for ourselves trivial?