Formal schooling, whether it is 8 years, 12 years, or more, conjures up memories of a classroom, a teacher, and the anxiety of being called on. No matter how you felt about school, it’s an experience most of us share, and occasionally relive in our dreams.
You know, the kind of dreams that jerk you out of sleep with your heart pounding because there’s a big test you never cracked a book for, or you’ve been humiliated in front of the class by not knowing the answer, or not wearing pants. Even if those things never happened to me in real life, they are common analogs for any other kind of anxiety in our adult lives: fear of failure, concern over professional standing, not being diligent enough.
I’ve been in many formal learning settings – college, graduate school, professional training: a teacher standing in the front, materials to study and be tested on, class participation to gauge your grasp of ideas, and projects to complete individually or with a team. By contrast, professional continuing education seems to all be computer-based and self-paced. It can be high-quality and efficient, but it lacks the communal element since my colleagues and I are taking the modules at separate times and places.
In-person teachers have the advantage of being more memorable, whether it’s my 1st grade teacher who would read books to us while she crossed her legs and swung one of her shoes from her foot, or my 4th grade teacher who had volunteers line up to give her shoulder rubs. My high school Humanities teacher exposed us to Dante, Plato, art history, and some sentence diagramming when he thought our grammar was weak. In college, I remember a fiery French literature teacher who was amazed that we hadn’t all grown up Catholic and thereby able to understand all the religious imagery in our readings, and an elegant art history teacher who helped expand my interest first fueled in high school.
Of course, learning happens everyday and in many ways. Now the teachers are my co-workers, trial-and-error, and repetition. While I may not be given multiple choice pop quizzes, there’s still the evaluation that comes from how quickly you can find a document hiding in your computer, remembering the steps in a detailed task, or adjusting when you get feedback from a colleague. Every once in a while, I get to be the teacher, showing someone how to solve a problem, or coaching through a challenge. Maybe I’ll be remembered in their dreams someday. I just hope we’re all wearing pants.