Recently I broke my ankle and did not walk for three months. As a child I learned to walk at about eight months (my mother says it was more like I ran). This experience was new something I had observed others do with ease and it was more efficient than my level of mobility, so I learned to walk. It was novel and probably confusing at times, but eventually I became an expert in the skill of traversing different surfaces upright. Now to say I returned to a novice state when I “learned’ to walk again after breaking my ankle may be going a little too far, but it is not completely untrue. I had to learn how to walk with a tight rope, a devise fusing my tibia and fibula together, limiting my ankle flexibility. My learning to walk experience was not the same as when I was eight months old, definitely not as fun. At times it was novel, in a painful way, and confusing. I was an expert walker returning to novice territory where some of the rules had changed. One never thinks they will have to relearn to walk, but learning is a lifelong process and cyclical, and sometimes requires revisiting a novice space as Benander (2009) argues.
Benander (2009) states, “Experts negotiate the learning space differently from novices’ (36). One could argue that we are all expert learners with certain experiential expertise and skills that help us navigate all different kinds of learning spaces including ones that are new or have content we are unfamiliar with. Having some unfamiliarity with content or a skill does put one in a novice like state, but you can on be a true novice when the learning is completely new and unfamiliar. I did not learn to walk again like I did at eight months old when it was completely new. I approached the relearning experience from an expert’s perspective, but at times felt like a novice. I revisited the novice experience. It wasn’t a true novice experience, but I still learned some valuable lessons and had to take risks like any novice. Benander (2009) states, “A teacher who is an expert in his or her discipline can gain teaching insights from revisiting the novice learner experience’ (36). This revisiting the novice experience does not mean one becomes a complete novice again, but partakes in the experience to gain further insight and reflective perspective on their current position as an expert. Revisiting or relearning a novice experience is done to become a more efficient learner and teacher.
I have been through two teaching internships, one for elementary and one for secondary. In my elementary education internship I was a novice and treated as such, everything was very new and novel. My anxiety level was also high too. In my secondary education internship I was in a novice experience, meaning I was experiencing new territory and some new content, but most of it was familiar enough I was traversing the learning space more as an expert than a novice. I and the other interns were not treated as complete novices nor did we approach the experience from a novice perspective. In my first internship I was struggling and grappling with content while trying to apply what I had learned as a student to my practice as a new teacher. There was struggle and anxiety through the learning process. My second internship was centered on a reflective process, refining my teaching skills, and transferring my former experiential teaching knowledge into a new space. Struggle and anxiety were present, but it was handled with a confidence and experience I had gained from my true novice experience.
Also during my revisiting a novice space as an expert learner my mentor teacher treated me more like an expert based on my previous internship experience. To my surprise my mentor teacher looked to me for guidance on how to be an effective mentor teacher because the mentor teacher and student teacher relationship and experience was new to her. She wanted to see the experience from my perspective in order to do a good job. She did not go from a teacher to a student position, as Benander (2009) describes, but took the underlying ideas and reflective process Benander (2009) suggests that are beneficial to revisiting the novice experience again. That was one characteristic of my mentor teacher that I admired, she was always open and willing to try new teaching strategies and ideas. She went looking for novice experiences through professional development, PLCs, and personal research. This is where I think the novice experience in the teaching profession fits best. The purpose of professional development and PLCs is to keep teachers up to date on the newest and latest. This is how learning is kept fresh, new, and novel for teachers. Without this interaction among expert teachers in sometimes novice spaces of learning the education profession can easily become an isolated lonely place. Education is as much an academic experience as it is a social one. Cox (2004) corroborates this by stating, “The isolation of college teachers in the 1920s was reported by Waller (1932). Even now, ‘The heart of the crisis in American education is the lonely work of teachers who often feel disconnected from administrators, colleagues, and many of their students’ (Baker, 1999, p. 95)’ (6). Expert learning and teaching does not take place without social interaction and one could argue that Benander’s (2009) professor to novice student experience was beneficial because it helped the professors understand his or her students better, which then informed his or her teaching, thus developing a learning community where both the teacher’s and student’s perspectives are valued.
Benander’s (2009) article may seem like diving in the deep end of the pool, but it is really only splashing around in the shallow end. The ideas may seem extreme, but it only is highlighting the nature of learning that it is lifelong and cyclical. Every once in a while one needs to revisit novice learning spaces as a reminder of what it is to be a student before becoming an expert in a field and to reflect on one’s on learning and teaching. Most importantly it reminds us where one needs to start in order to help develop students into expert learners that can traverse any learning space to find value and reflection. Learning is a lifelong process and one never knows when they will find his or herself in a novice learning space again.
Benander, R. (2009). Experiential learning in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9(2), 36—41.
Cox, M. D. (2004). Introduction to faculty learning communities. New Directions For Teaching & Learning, 2004(97), 5-23.