My teenage son got a small aquarium as a Christmas present some time ago. He read all about fish keeping, chose the fish species, plants, the gravel and some other stuff, and officially became an aquarist. However, as it often happens, some of the fish died the following day. I incidentally mentioned the sad news in one of my English classes and to my amazement, an 11-year-old boy immediately started explaining what the problem was in a very sophisticated way. I thanked him for his advice and I forwarded the message to my son. Later on I told the boy that his advice had been very useful and that it had helped my son to solve the problem.
What am I driving at? Well, we usually feel we learn best from the more experienced people – from our trainers, teachers, parents, etc. We are somewhat reluctant to admit that we actually learn from the ‘less experienced’ a great deal as well. But I can no longer deny that I learn from my students every day. I listen to them while they share their experiences during a speaking activity and I learn without even noticing it. Sometimes I explicitly ask them for help, for example, when I need to count something quickly, multiply, divide, subtract, etc. (honestly, they are much better and quicker than me). I ask them for help when there is a problem with technology and they are usually able to fix it within a matter of seconds.
I don’t pretend that I’m the one who always knows better. On the contrary, I don’t feel uncomfortable if I have to confess that I was wrong. Sometimes my students come up with a rare word or something I’ve never heard of. As they play computer games and read fantasy books in English they come across low-frequency words or colloquial expressions which I’m not familiar with. But I’m always willing to learn from them and I always send the message that I like to learn from them. I know they feel proud when they know better than the teacher, and they deserve to feel so, but of course, they have to be polite. I once had a student who was a little malicious and was very happy to ridicule others (including me) by pointing out errors and correcting others in a rude way. This is something I never tolerate – not just because of my feelings but because it hurts the other students in the class.
I believe that we are like jigsaw pieces; each of us possesses some unique knowledge and if we share these pieces, we’ll create the whole, amazing picture. And even the youngest creatures can teach us a lesson. My 5-year-old son sometimes points to a nonsensical statement of mine, when I say something illogical because I’m not paying attention to our conversation. He askes me curiously how that could be and I suddenly realize that he IS paying attention; kids always are if they are interested in something. Generally, small kids teach us how to be more alert and watchful because they are still able to live in the present moment without escaping to the past or future all the time. They teach us to be more careful about what we say and how we say it because they are there and always listen (or they don’t). They never bother to pretend …