The How and The Who

The thing about teaching is that anyone can do it. People do it all the time. This is not to say that anyone should be able to do it in schools; for that you need specialised training. But if you came across a mum teaching her child to count, as they played together in the park, you wouldn’t say, “hey, don’t do that, you’re not qualified.” The same is not true of being a doctor, or a pilot, or a rocket scientist. We want parents to teach their children stuff, but we don’t want parents to stitch a wound, or fly a plane, or build a rocket. The other thing about teaching is that it works best when it happens within a relationship – teaching is not just about you on your own, it is about you and your relationship with the people you are teaching. You can ‘teach’ all you want, but for magic to happen, the other person has to want to learn as well. Teachers get to laugh, and cry, and go on trips with their children. The same cannot be said for doctors, or pilots, or rocket scientists.

One of the main things you need in teaching is confidence, both in the subject you are teaching, and also in how you are going to teach it to the specific people in front of you. When you don’t have confidence, the whole thing tends to fall apart. This is why I struggle a bit with the idea of using research to find evidence to tell people the ‘right way’ to teach. Research works best when people are uncertain about the answers they are going to get, not when they think they know exactly what the answer will be. Teaching works best when people are sure about how they are going to do it, not when they are in doubt. Teachers need to have confidence in their own professional judgement and in their ability to reflect, evaluate and adapt to their own context. While the ‘how to’ is widely debated at the moment, there is something that attempts to scientize teaching will never get past. Yes, teaching is about how, but it is also about who. It is you, in that moment, with those kids.

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2 Responses to The How and The Who

  1. The Barista says:

    Great points even though I think there is some merit in the research side.
    As a facilitator and an attendee at the recent researchED conference it was good to see the different methodologies people used for research as well as the findings and how it influenced what goes on in the classroom.

    My role as an educator started in working with students from Caribbean backgrounds. Extra curricular teaching was influenced by cultural context but also some great academics who were specialists in this area. 20 plus years later many students of Caribbean descent still suffer academically in the same way white working class boys do. For me the solution is found in a mix of what happens face to face as well as observing research and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

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  2. jillberry102 says:

    Only just catching up with this, Sue – interesting to read.

    Just re: “Teaching works best when people are sure about how they are going to do it, not when they are in doubt. Teachers need to have confidence in their own professional judgement and in their ability to reflect, evaluate and adapt to their own context” – while I don’t disagree, I’ve been doing some work with training teachers this summer, and it’s made me think a lot about my early years of teaching. The confidence and expertise can take a while to build up, I think. A good deal of support and appropriate challenge needs to happen while beginning teachers are honing their craft. And part of this may involve looking at the research into where teaching is achieving positive impact (I read and was impressed by Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach Like a Champion 2,0’ this summer, and used this with the trainees I was working with) and reflecting on what we can learn from this.

    It isn’t just beginning teachers, of course, as however confident and competent we are we continue to learn throughout our careers.

    I definitely agree that there is no one right way to teach, and that we always have to be sensitive to context, but I think we can learn from others and that can help us to develop the confidence we need to build and strengthen our skills.

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