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Learning to be homeless

Stashed in: Learn!, Homeless

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Great teachers can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Wow, I like how the old man dropped the truth bombs.

I was watching learning. I was watching a person learn how to be homeless. It was not something I had seen before, or ever really thought about.

It was the most chi-chi, bourgeois, middle class thing to sit and marvel at it, but there was something amazingly calm and spiriting about the old man. This was proper mentorship. Guiding his learner to safety, encouraging him to read, encouraging him to think, filling in gaps when needed. He was making it look so easy and compelling I almost wanted to follow him around and learn how to be homeless.

As someone who has obsessively followed teaching for the best part of a decade it was quite something to be reminded that there are many things we don’t prepare children to learn, nor do I think we should (don’t worry, I’m not about to suggest ‘homeslessness lessons’ on the curriculum). But it was a reminder that whether or not we teach collaboration, or peer learning, etc – one of the most basic things humans do is show each other how to do stuff. And if we do it in a calm way, that keeps people’s humility, stops them from walking into too many walls, teaches them specialist vocabulary and skills, then we can make their world easier – even when it is unimaginably difficult, as I expect the life of a homeless person is to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.

There was something else interesting in the exchange. The older man showed a distinct pride in being able to show the younger man the ropes. It clearly gave him an opportunity to be respected. For all I know, though, he could have been buttering the young man up to use him later, in true Fagan style. He would easily have been able to do so. It was obvious the young man was grateful. Which was a reminder of the power that knowledge transfer brings to the teacher. It can make the learner feel indebted, and teachers must work hard not to take advantage of that gratefulness for their own ends but instead encourage the learner to use that energy to go on and teach others. In my ideal world, the old man was simply paying forward a good deed someone once did by showing him the ropes.

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