The Invisible Teacher

Written By aperkins

On August 19, 2011

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I was recently introduced to the work of Liu Bolin, a Chinese artist, who is able to make his self invisible through the use of paint. He spends hours having himself painted and is then dropped into a scene where he is camouflaged by the paint. His current exhibition, The Invisible Man, is a testimony to his ability to mask himself within ordinary backdrops like graffiti walls, flags, supermarket shelves, sawmills, and coal piles. But if you look closely-he’s there.

Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City No. 92 - Supermarket No. 2, 2010.

Liu Bolin, Hiding in the City No. 92 - Supermarket No. 2, 2010.

I was left thinking about classrooms with invisible teachers. These are classrooms where the teachers are the facilitators of the learning process but are purposely hidden away so that students are self-directed in the learning. The classrooms make a shift from teacher controlled learning spaces to student centered learning environments for students to generate meaningful work.
I think back to a service learning project my students were enthusiastic about completing. I provided the opportunity for the students to brainstorm ideas of interest where they might contribute time and energy. They collectively decided to donate time and resources to a local animal shelter. Knowing my students learning styles and interests, I agreed to this site and then they began contributing ideas to how what they would be learning on site would contribute to meeting state academic objectives. Students knew from the beginning the summative writing choices and were given informal writing tasks along the way to prepare for these tasks.
Because the project provided various choices in how they could serve, there was an opportunity for these students to tap into their abilities and set new learning goals for what they wanted to accomplish. The task profiles were primarily in communications, site maintenance, medical treatment, and individual care. Students floated in and out of these roles as tasks were completed and new ones arose. Students had the opportunity to process adoptions, assist in surgeries, organize donation drives, maintain cages, exercise animals, groom animals, and make friends with the animals.
Since the students were taking responsibility for their own learning and given choices on how they would learn, they were motivated intrinsically. The motivation was sometimes the completion of a task and other times just the process of working on a task. The teacher assigned grade or teacher given praise were insubstantial motivators. They were motivated by the pleasure they received from learning something they were interested in learning. My job was primarily to provide them with the writing tools they would need for the summative writing assignment while they were busy gathering the content for the writing.
So that was the connection for me as I viewed the pieces by Liu Bolin. His work was successful in stimulating my emotions and thoughts. I was taken back to my own classroom and an experience I was able to share with a group of 9th graders who maintained an eagerness and excitement to learn. What stories do you have of making yourself invisible in the classroom? As the new school year kicks off, what are some ideas you have for making yourself invisible? Share your stories.