Judy Keneipp is a middle school biology teacher in Orange County, California. Here, she shares her thoughts and advice on being a lifelong learner both in and out of the classroom.
As a teacher I am by default engaged in the process of lifelong learning. I came to the teaching profession rather late in life. At the age of 40 I spent a concentrated year earning my credential. I prepared to take the MSAT, made hundreds of notecards, and was surprised at how much I already knew. I was also surprised by what I didn’t know. I have been teaching for over 20 years now, and I continue to be surprised by what I do and do not know. Along the way I have learned that there are real connections between what one knows, collaborative working skills, problem solving capacities, and self-discipline. These are the fruits of lifelong learning. Along with these I’ve also developed a measure of self-reliance. It’s simple: if you know things, you can do things—with confidence!
The LDS Church I belong to encourages goal-oriented personal development. Our beliefs about education, self-reliance, and learning involve more than just degrees and careers. They intersect with all that matters to us in this life and the next and, as such, demand a lot of us in terms of the choices we make about how to use our time and talents. Education, learning, and self-reliance are interrelated. In Doctrine and Covenants 88:118–24 we are given the blueprint for what and how we are to learn. “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith. Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing.” This revelation given in 1832 was called “the olive leaf” by Joseph Smith, as it promises peace to all who follow its precepts. This peace that comes from the habit of learning has been verified by psychological studies. Lifelong learning has been found to be a defense against aging, illness, depression, and self-doubt. Learning and self-reliance build confidence in our abilities to face an uncertain future. As we educate ourselves according to our own needs, we will be prepared to face the challenges of life. This is the peace offered by lifelong learning.
I have read that lifelong learning demands a lot of us in terms of the choices we make about how to use our time and talents. On my way to work each day I see a digital sign blinking “Silence the distraction.” We have been admonished regarding the slippery slopes of technology, consumerism, and indulgences of every variety as they pertain to how we use our time. Learning requires us to work at it, make a habit of it, make sacrifices for it, and, most importantly, cultivate curiosity. Curiosity comes from deep within. If we are in the thick of thin things, our wondering and questioning minds will not be free to lead us to learning. Inquiry is a natural process, but a process we must nurture. “There are few things more pathetic than those who have lost their curiosity and sense of adventure, and who no longer care to learn” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Way to Be! 9 Rules for Living the Good Life). These strong words from a beloved prophet are an indication of the importance of this aspect of our intelligence. Allow time to be curious! Then follow your curiosity through learning into knowing.
Lifelong learning also has practical applications. When I noticed that my balance was not what it was or should be, I discovered the sport of paddle boarding. This new adventure has brought me friendships, improved physical health, and a great way to spend sunny hours. A neighbor who recently retired from a corporate career transformed her considerable sewing skills and a spare room with two enormous embroidery machines into a thriving home business. She has developed a network of online associates and a steady stream of customers. Along with supplementing income she is adding to her own feelings of self-worth as she continues to learn new techniques. Her retirement became “re-wirement.” Both of us feel empowered because we challenged ourselves to keep learning.
As we use our agency to choose learning as a tool to progress, we prepare ourselves for what the Lord has in mind for us. We become more fitted to do for ourselves and others as we develop and use our intellect and talents. We come closer to our Savior and His example. We find peace.