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What is the difference between an engineer and a teacher?


I have been reading a really interesting book on engineering called, “To engineer is human: the role of failure in successful design“. One insight from the book is that engineers naturally have or are trained to have a high tolerance for change. That is why they are always looking for better ways to design and build things. This directly goes against our general love for the status quo, the known and comfortable.
This insight helped me frame our interactions with teachers a bit better. I realized that teachers need to provide a consistent, safe environment for their students (especially inner-city students who have tumultuous family lives) and change doesn’t come very naturally to them. Thus a teacher’s ability to innovate would be directly proportional to his/her tolerance for chaos in the classroom.
So which side of the spectrum would result in the best learning for the students? I would hypothesize that inculcating a spirit of innovation and courage would stand the student in better stead than a very orderly environment. I come from a girls-only, convent school run by nuns and there are probably some jails in the world that are better than that school. There was tremendous discipline and order and every girl had spotless white, knee-length socks – and I did not learn anything.
Maybe if the teacher were to be openly honest with the students and admit that they all (the students and teacher) were going to try out a new experiment that even the teacher didn’t know the outcome of, then it could be a powerful learning exercise for all. I know some teachers on the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) listserve share similar strategies and protocols, but I wonder what it would take to have every teacher expand their comfort zone and be more receptive to change.

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