I can remember some moments of school vividly, as though the simple action of closing my eyes and thinking can take me back to that time and place. My senses reach a nostalgic overload as I am transported back to crowded hallways, musty textbooks and a variety of voices that speak volumes of learning memory. I become what I was, braces and all, and so I am able to reminisce, revisit and relive at will while discovering new memories I had long since tucked away for a rainy day.
Then there are other moments when my time machine seems to run out of gas. When memory asks me to brush away cobwebs of unused information, I start to wonder if I was ever really there.
Why can’t I remember what teacher stood before me, why X doesn’t equal Z or what a sedimentary rock is? After some frustration has passed, I start to assess the relevance of my delirium. If I can’t remember the most basic detail of the material I learned, did I ever really live through it? Did any actual learning occur?
Thinking back on my educational experiences while putting on my teacher hat, I’ve come to realize what the difference is between these two methods of thought. The moments I cannot recall well, those moments where my memory time machine has failed me, are those moments when I failed to make meaningful connections.
I could memorize anything with the best of them, often reciting more information than I thought my brain could store in one sitting, but the effort was set aside for a short-term goal – getting a 100 on a test or reciting facts when the teacher called on me. I became a passive learner in that respect, getting through material for an anticipated end result.
The truth is, I loved school! I was one of those kids who loved to learn and thrived in a competitive atmosphere. What I was not, though, was a kid who was naturally gifted. When I couldn’t conceptualize something instantly, I struggled and had to work that much harder as a result, which is probably where the memorization piece came into play.
I was in my element, though, when I could smile, laugh and express myself. The latter type of memory is where the time machine part works for me now. I can recall not only sensory details of those memories, I can also recall exactly what I was learning about.
The difference between the forgetting and the remembering is the relevance of human experience. I not only learned those moments, I lived them, and they come back at the most opportune times – when I can apply the information learned.
As a teacher, I find myself trying to re-create those types of experiences with my students. Teachers are taught to cover specific information, to prepare students for standardized tests and to help make them career-ready. Of course I understand all of that, and although I may have my own opinions on the laundry list of requirements, I also acknowledge that I have a specific job to do.
In a world of fast-turning trends, pressures and technology, it becomes increasingly important for me to do what’s best for my students, to speak to them. I think that is best accomplished through memory-learning experiences. I want them to build their own memories just as I did. No matter what type of students they happen to be, maybe if I try hard enough, my students will get in their own time machine some day.