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10.7: How can teachers continue to learn throughout life?

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    by Christa Portlock

    “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.” The founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, spoke these words over 2000 years ago. (Smith, xi) Education is similar to this principle. For centuries students were “fed” information and taught to memorize facts, in the hope they would retain a portion of what was taught. Today it isn’t enough just to feed information to students. Our world is changing so fast that new information becomes available faster than it can be taught. If a nation wants to keep pace with this ever-changing world, then learning can’t stop at graduation. Students as well as teachers must learn “how to fish” for knowledge by becoming life long learners. Teachers can become life-long learners by realizing and acknowledging that life long-learning is a necessity; by learning to keep up with changes through personal and professional development; and by teaching with passion, inspiring young minds to see learning as something wonderful.

    Small boy fishing at a lake

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Image 1, Students as well as teachers must learn "how to fish" for knowledge by becoming life long learners (Public Domain, CK209, Wikimedia)

    Life-long Learning is a Necessity

    The last century has brought about an explosion of inventions, new technologies and new information about our world and universe. Teachers have had to keep up with all the new information and knowledge. What would it be like if they hadn’t? Picture a classroom somewhere in America. The teacher has been teaching for many years; she might be in her 50’s. That means she started teaching during the 1970s. Think back about 30 years. What were American schools like then? What kind of things would you have found in her first classroom? Classrooms in those days had chalkboards and pull-down maps. Some schools had TVs, film-and overhead projectors that were shared between classes and could be rolled into the room. Calculators existed but were generally not used in the classroom. Now imagine for a minute what it would be like if this teacher had not adapted to change. What would it be like if she had buried herself in her classroom, not furthered her learning, not embraced all the new technologies, events and discoveries? If she had not been a life-long learner, what would she have missed? What would she not have learned, embraced, and passed on to students? Think of the things that have happened in the past 35 years. She would have missed, among other things, the hostage crisis in the late 70’s, Presidents coming and going, this country at war more than once, the attack of 9/11. She would not have seen the Soviet Union collapse, would not have heard of Aids or global warming. She would not have known much, if anything, about DNA. She wouldn’t know how to use a personal computer, the internet or cell phones. It is easy to see that if we stand still the world will pass us by. We live in a global society that is changing at breathtaking speed. We need to adapt and change. Life-long learning is a necessity for everyone.

    Personal and Professional Development

    In order to keep up with our changing environment and to stay informed, teachers make a conscious effort to continue learning. They will take part in professional training through the school district or through classes taken at universities. Most teachers read books and professional journals to keep up with the newest information about child development. They read magazines, newspapers, watch the news and surf the internet to keep up with changes that happen around the world. Teachers attend workshops to keep up with technology, the newest teaching strategies, and classroom management techniques. They are eager to take in new information about our world and look for ways to improve their teaching practices in the classroom. Another way a teacher can improve and move forward is to learn more about him or herself. In the book Those Who can, Teach by Ryan Cooper, a teacher is likened to a sculptor who “begins with a vision of what he or she wants to be and then sets to work transforming the vision into a reality… The process requires an understanding of … self … it takes long hours of chipping away and then smoothing the surfaces… To be a teacher, particularly a teacher who is continuously moving forward, is a lifelong commitment …” (Cooper, 473) A sculptor needs time, patience and the ability to see beyond what is easily visible on the surface to create his work of art. A teacher uses those same qualities, just like a sculptor, to patiently reflect and look deep within him- or herself to see where changes could be made. At the end of a day it is helpful for a teacher to think deeply about the events of that day, to analyze him- or herself and therefore better understand and react to situations in the future. It is good to take time to remember happy events, a chance to feel content about good things that may have happened. Reflection can help a person to learn and adjust to his or her environment. As previously discussed, teachers have to become life-long learners and have to adjust to keep up with our ever-changing world through personal and professional development. They are however, not the only ones who need to keep pace with new information and technology. One of the reasons it is so important for teachers to stay informed, is so they can pass this new knowledge and information on to students.

    Teaching with Passion


    If we can have “students see our passions – it gives them proof that we enjoy learning.” (Thomas, 2007)

    Children have a sense of wonder when they are young. “Keeping the joy in learning should be a priority of every school and every teacher.” (Warner, 2006)If children can keep their sense of excitement about the world, they will love to learn and that original excitement and love of learning will most likely stay with them for life. To help keep the excitement alive, teachers aim to inspire young minds. They want their students to see how much fun learning can be. In the article “A Return to Community: Inquiry in Action” Ann H. MacKenzie wrote: “Life-long learning implies a buy-in curiosity about life... an insatiable desire to be alive in ‘the now, the future,’ and immersed in the teeming life surrounding us every moment.” (Thomas, 2007) If we can have “students see our passions – it gives them proof that we enjoy learning.” (Thomas, 2007) It is wonderful to see the sparks when students understand a concept and take off excited with their new-found knowledge. “We must model that inquisitiveness in the classrooms. Our students must see us involved in our own life-long learning… Watch us passionately immerse ourselves in our own curiosities.” (MacKenzie)

    When teachers model excitement about learning, students will see learning as something positive to be imitated. In turn they will hopefully become life-long learners themselves. Rafe Esquinth wrote an inspiring book entitled Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire. He teaches in a “rough” Los Angeles neighborhood and found a way to inspire his students to learn, imagine, and eventually succeed in school. Esquinth relates a story about a day that didn’t start out well. In the course of that day he became so involved in teaching that unbeknownst to him, his hair caught on fire during an experiment. He was so involved in teaching, he didn’t even notice. That day he realized that the key to teaching was to become absorbed and excited about learning. He was determined from then on to make his goal to “teach like his hair is on fire”. (Esquinth, xii) If we can convey to students excitement about a subject, about learning, and about life we will teach as if our “hair is on fire”. That kind of excitement will inspire children to become life-long learners.


    “We must model that inquisitiveness in the classrooms. Our students must see us involved in our own life-long learning… Watch us passionately immerse ourselves in our own curiosities.” (MacKenzie)


    As individuals and as citizens of a global economy we have to keep pace with our world. We must continue to learn and then pass our knowledge and love of learning on to the next generation. We have to inspire the next generation to find joy in continuous learning so that, even after leaving school, students will be prepared for this ever-changing world, ready to embrace a world filled with new, exciting things, ready to investigate and ready to keep learning, never giving up on their quest for knowledge. A fish is only one meal… we want to teach students to be excited about learning, excited about fishing for information; we want to give them the tools to become life-long fishermen for knowledge.

    Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    1)Does learning stop at graduation? Why?

    a)Yes, because there are too many other things to do.

    b)Yes, because learning makes hair catch on fire.

    c)No, because it’s important to keep up with our ever-changing world.

    d)Of course we stop learning at graduation! We’re done with school!

    2)What is an example of professional development for teachers?

    a)Reading articles about child development

    b)Attending workshops

    c)Keeping up with technology

    d)All of the above

    3)What is an important part of personal development for teachers?

    a)Developing a seventh sense

    b)Getting a pedicure

    c)Practicing reflection

    d)Joining a teacher’s organization

    4)How does the practice of reflection help a teacher?

    a)Reflection helps a teacher learn about him or herself.

    b)Reflection can help a teacher to learn about and adjust to his or her environment.

    c)It’s important for a teacher to see her own reflection to make sure she looks proper before entering the classroom.

    d)Both a and b.

    5)Why is it important to teach with passion?

    a)It gives children proof that we enjoy learning.

    b)It shows children that learning is something positive to be imitated.

    c)It keeps excitement about learning alive.

    d)All of the above.


    1. c

    2. d

    3. c

    4. d

    5. d

    Reaction Paper

    My Thoughts About Life-long Learning

    by Christa Portlock

    Investigating life-long learning and what it means made me think about what it means to me as a student and as a prospective future teacher. To me the world has always been a very interesting, exciting, and beautiful place to investigate and to learn about. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without that wonder and appreciation about learning new things. Life is so much more stimulating, rich and pleasurable when we engage our minds, use our imagination and fill our hearts with the beauty that surrounds us. I would love to pass that excitement on to someone else. It would be exciting to spark the imagination of children and watch them find the same joy that I have always felt when learning something new. I know I have much to learn to be able to know how to best pass on knowledge, as well as excitement about learning. I am on a learning quest right now. I want to learn how to become that teacher who can create those sparks that light up a child’s eyes and light his or her path through life with inquisitiveness and excitement. I will spend the next few years in school learning all I can. I have spent much time in classrooms in the past, but from this time on I will be spending time in the classroom watching with different eyes. I will have chances to observe experienced teachers. I will spend time reading about teachers that were able to make sparks and even small miracles happen, like Helen Keller. I know, however, that this is just the beginning of my journey. Most of my learning about teaching will come through the time spent in the classroom. I want to venture and say that many of my most profound lessons will be taught to me by my future students without them even knowing they’ve been teaching me. I am looking forward to those lessons and am excited about what is to come. As a teacher I will continue to learn. I will take advantage of the training opportunities offered to me and learn individually as well. I hope I will have the opportunity to work with a mentor, learning through observation. I am excited about all the new things to learn and embrace. Life-long learning goes beyond the time spent at school; it goes beyond the classroom and beyond the teaching years. Life-long learning is an adventurous journey through life. Keeping the mind active has enormous health benefits, physically, mentally and spiritually. Life-long learning has the ability to shape, influence, and determine the future. It has the ability to influence mankind’s achievements, technologies, and ultimately our destination through individuals who never stand still and make life-long learning their quest that fuels their investigations. Who knows what sparks will fly when the imagination soars in our future classrooms? I am determined to find out!

    Essay Question

    How can a teacher be likened to a sculptor?


    Cooper, Ryan (2007). Those Who Can, Teach. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company

    Esquith, Rafe (2007). Teach like your hair is on fire. New York, NY: Penguin Group

    MacKenzie, A. (2006, November). A Return to the Community: Inquiry in Action. American Biology Teacher, pp. 518, 519. Retrieved February 2, 2008, from Education Research Complete Database.

    Smith, Rick (2004). Conscious classroom management. San Rafael, CA: Conscious Teaching Publications.

    Thomas, J. (2007, November). Teaching with Passion. Education Digest, 73(3), 63-65. Retrieved February 2, 2008, from Education Research Complete database.

    Warner, S. (2006, April 1). Keeping Joy in Technology Education. Technology Teacher, 65(7), 6. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ747900) Retrieved February 2, 2008,fromERICdatabase .