Path Maker

Path Maker

Judith Johnston
2003 3M Teaching Fellow

hen I began teaching, I saw myself as an Explainer or Persuader, someone who talked a lot and imparted an organized body of knowledge to a listener. Now I see the role of a teacher as being that of a Path Maker, someone who puts the trail markers in the forest or the stepping stones through the garden. We indicate the direction of travel, put signs up where the road splits, and strategically position a few benches to encourage pauses for reflection. But the Teacher as Path Maker cannot determine what students will see or experience as they walk the path. That will depend on what they are looking for, what captures their attention and whom else they meet along the way. We can assure ourselves and our students that they will reach the other side, and we can chart their paths through the most interesting and revealing parts of the woods, but we can’t predict what they will have learned when they arrive.

We also can’t predict what we will have learned. As students make their way along the path, in their own fashion, they point to things we never knew were there. And so, my view of Teaching as Path Making guarantees that I remain a learner too. In the final analysis this may be my most important contribution- to be an example of someone who finds great pleasure in new ideas, who creates plans of inquiry, and who embodies the principle that ignorance and questions are not reasons for embarrassment, but invitations to learn.