Disclaimer: Repeat Learner here refers to someone who can’t stop learning new things. I don’t believe the definition: a Repeat Learner is a student who has outstanding modules from previous years gives it justice. I’m a proud Repeat Learner who repeats the activity of learning new things all the time.
My life as a student lasted long. When I looked back, I spent almost twenty-two whole years (Y6-Y28) as a full-time student. At some point when I was near the end of my student days, I thought the learning part of my life was about to be done. How wrong was I! Once I started teaching as a full-time mathematics lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic, I quickly realized there were so many things I needed to learn: how to write a lesson plan that makes sense; how to communicate with students; how to write on the whiteboard/blackboard which minimizes the chance of anything getting erased during an one-hour lecture, how to navigate the LMS (we were using Blackboard back then), etc. I had a great officemate when I started my job, and she taught me new skills everyday in the first few months. I didn’t even know how to order textbooks! Once I settled on my new role as a lecturer and knew what I was doing, I found myself learning how to use Camtasia to make video lessons; taking online courses to learn about the newest edtech tools, and even a cool visualization software for statistics: Tableau. All these learning experiences keep my day exciting. They have brought much frustration and struggle, but also joy, satisfaction and fun. I’m in love with learning new things! It helps me master skills that make me a better teacher.
What I didn’t realize back then is learning new things can also help me stay humble and connected to my students. Sometimes I found myself quietly complaining things in my head while teaching: How can you not know this? How can you forget something that we just learned last week? How can you not get it? You see, I forget what it’s like to be a student, to be a learner who struggles. I took up painting two years ago, and whenever I can’t get things right, which happens to each one of my paintings, I tell myself this is what it’s like to be learning new things. Those quiet complaints in my head gradually go away. I’m able to put myself in my students’ shoes and see things in a different angle now. I’m more empathetic because I also struggle when I learn new things and I know that’s the good thing: without making mistakes and struggling, progress and growth won’t happen. I’m not suggesting every teacher to go out and learn something new today, but it’s important to remind ourselves what it’s like to be a beginner, a learner.
Now I’m challenging myself to learn how to play piano, which I figured might take years, especially after my first lesson. I’m not giving up just yet. The learning part is too good to walk away from. I guess I’ll never quit being a student.