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comment by _refugee_

As a teacher, do you think there is ever a point at which students can continue to achieve success and improve using mostly self-directed learning? in other words, yes, a mentor and/or teacher is definitely necessary during the beginning years of any practice. But, is there a point where in some practices, you can eventually rely on yourself to continue your development?

I think it's interesting that in some areas you can self-teach, and in other areas, it's at minimum not as easy to do so. For instance for someone who is learning to play an instrument, especially if they want to play it really well, I think a teacher is essential. There is a lot going on behind the production of music that a novice will not even notice or be aware of. And the teacher helps guide the path; says "Learn these scales" and "memorize these keys," and so on. The teacher shows you technique.

But for instance I self-taught myself knitting. I had hiccups along the way and I definitely did some things wrong for a long time, much longer than I would have if I had had a mentor. But I didn't mind, I was having fun, and in the meantime I got pretty damn good at knitting. Then I taught myself how to spin and dye and, well, at this point, give me a sheep's fleece and six months and I'll give you a sweater (or I could, if I was willing to invest the time and could borrow a spinning wheel from someone). You want colors? I'll give ya colors. You want lace? I'll give ya lace. I'd say 90% of my knitting education was self-taught. I'm not a knitting genius but I am absolutely proficient.

So when is that teacher necessary? Is there a point where your teacher can become like training wheels and you can take flight off into the world, still getting better at what you are doing, without the instruction of another? - Driving is another skill like knitting. Except I had a tutor for the first part.

I am asking because I need someone to reassure me I can keep getting better at poetry without a guru :) I do have a guru, but she is very far removed and seems to think that's a better approach. Sometimes I get feedback from people, but mostly, for years now, it's been about steering my own ship.

katakowsj  ·  3792 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Excellent question. I really enjoy attempting to answer it for the sake that I have to reflect on my teaching and my experiences as a teacher to answer it. I think I could write a book on the subject.

I can say that I don't think there's ever a point where any student is completely self-directed. Or at least, I'm not sure how learning can continue if one is devoid of mentors, role-models, or even a competitor.

My most motivated math students are close to being self-directed. Much of the time my motivated students need me to provide some direction toward our next skill or concept of mastery. They'll need me to provide them with practice opportunities and answers to their insightful questions. By insightful questions, I mean questions that show they are very close to mastery of the new concept and have explored it at length, or at least have mastery of the prerequisites of the new concepts on which we are focusing.

I guess basically, my best learners have "grit". Fortunately for my employment, and my personal need for feeling useful, they still do need me around.

_refugee_  ·  3792 days ago  ·  link  ·  

Well, I really appreciate your response. Teaching was a career I thought I wanted to go into for a long time, until I started reading about the state of higher education and the pitfalls of such a career. Now I have decided I shall just get famous first, so they shall have to pay me a living wage. ;) Anyway I find teaching fascinating and I admire people like you. Also, I'm sorry for what you (probably) have to go through on a day-to-day basis; parents, Common Core standards, mandatory overtime, and the general frustrations of the system. This assuming you teach in a public US school, of course.

    Or at least, I'm not sure how learning can continue if one is devoid of mentors, role-models, or even a competitor.

Ah. I'm glad you say this. I ask because I'm a student of poetry and writing and, after college, I've largely found myself un-menteed. However, there are plenty of role models and competitors out there for me! I read plenty and try to stay on top of my field. It's really just a lack of frequent, detailed feedback that I lack - I have my "guru," who is an active poet I admire greatly and whose advice I trust, but what with the Real World, her grandson, the classes she teaches, the readings and writing she does - I don't seek or receive her feedback very often. It's not to the same level of my college critiques. I also have some friends I have developed or stayed in contact with and we workshop from time-to-time, but it is not super frequent.

I try to do different things to challenge myself and force myself to attempt new techniques or styles. I read as much as I can and if I like what I read I'll echo it, imitate it, in order to get a handle on the style.

Poetry is not as delineated as math, I think, where you can say "Yes this is algebra, and the next step is pre-calc, and the next is calc, and we know all the steps we need to take to get you from a to b." It seems to be like there is a more clear progression in math or science or even in the study of literature (as opposed to the creation of it). You must learn the quadratic formula before sin, cos, tan, which you must learn before cosecant, secant, and cotangent, and so on.

For me it is harder to recognize what steps I should take next because, you know, it's not math or science, there isn't necessarily a clear progression and a lot of it can be based off of personal taste or style. Sometimes it really feels like "sifting through the madness for the word, the line, the way" (Bukowski) like a blind person. Plus I am faced with the dilemma of "no right answer;" poetry can be very subjective. Am I really getting better? Or am I egotistical and self-important?

Anyway, sorry about my ramblings. I really appreciated your answer. It made me feel better. I don't write in a vacuum. I just don't have a direct teacher anymore.