Can teachers successfully educate children to think for themselves if teachers are not treated as professionals who think for themselves?—Diane Ravitch (2010, p. 67)
Marcus Geduld Teacher of 25 Years Explains Source:
It’s difficult for at least five reasons:
1. Each student is unique. In order for a unique student to learn from a teacher, that teacher must form a unique relationship with that student. Which means he must pay close attention to the student, ask the him lots of questions, gain the his trust, and learn what motivates him. He must tailor his approach to meet specific students’ needs.
Institutional problems, such as large-class-sizes make this challenging, and many teachers are additionally challenged by laziness, lack of ability, and lack of creative thinking. Some use the institutional challenges as an excuse to forgo problem-solving. They say, “I simply can’t give individual attention when I’m forced to teach large classes,” rather than, “It’s vital that I give individual attention no matter how large my class size is, so how can I possibly do it? I’m going to find a way or ‘die trying.'”
But even if it’s “not the teacher’s fault,” it’s still a reason why teaching is so difficult.
And I’ve seen lots of teachers in small classes behave the same way as teachers in large classes. Sadly, a teacher with three students is often just-as-inclined to use just one teaching method as is a teacher saddled with two-hundred-students. Too many teach the way they know how and don’t research new methods. Then they blame students for “not getting it” when their teaching methods fail. “I worked hard teaching him; he refused to learn…”
Good teachers are constantly researching and experimenting, even when their current techniques work. They assume there’s always a better way.
Teaching, when done well, is a massively creative act. I currently work more often as a computer programmer than as a teacher, and it forces me into daily, intense problems solving. I simply can’t rely today on what I learned yesterday. I must lie awake at night, trying to figure out algorithms or my programs simply don’t work. And they can’t not work. I’ll get fired if they don’t.
Alas, it’s rare to find teachers willing to do that: teachers who lie awake at night thinking, “Everything I’ve done to help Melissa learn has failed, but it’s imperative that she learn! So what can I do? Hmm….”
I don’t have the “out” of blaming the computer. If there’s a problem, I must take full responsibility for it. As a teacher, blaming the student is a constant temptation.
Here’s the best thing I’ve every read about programming, and it should (but too often doesn’t) apply to teaching, too:
I no longer equate thinking I’m right about something with actually being right about it.
It’s now very easy for me to entertain the thought that I may be wrong even when I feel pretty strongly that I’m right. Even if I’ve been quite forceful about something I believe, I’m able to back down very quickly in the face of contradicting evidence. I have no embarrassment about admitting that I was wrong about something.
When I used to teach regularly, I would rethink my approaches even when things were going well. For instance, even when I taught the same class over and over, I refused to reuse charts. I would re-draw the charts before each class. What I found, to my surprise, initially, was that charts I thought were “fine the way they were” would steadily improve as I revised them, even without me trying to improve them.
I hate the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Always fix it, whether it’s broke or not.
2. Effective teaching requires subduing the ego, and that’s very hard for almost all people. It takes dedication, an ability to try again and again after failure, and a “religious” belief that ego must be subdued.
When teaching, it’s very easy to worry about things like, “What if the students know more than I do?” or “What if I can’t answer a question? I’ll look stupid!” Those are both natural, human concerns, but neither of them focuses on the student. And they both tend to motivate the teacher towards deceptive, anti-educational behavior, such as a pretense of knowledge and a dismissal of difficult questions.
Many teachers feel as if they are masters rather than servants, which is ass-backwards. A good teacher knows he serves his students. His job isn’t to parent them or discipline them. He may need to play disciplinarian at times, so that the classroom environment is conductive to learning, but it’s easy for teachers to forget that this isn’t the job. Too many fall in the pattern of playing disciplinarian over and over rather than working their hardest to change their approach (or the environment) so that the problem doesn’t keep occurring.
I’ll say this one more time and then quit, hoping you’ll take it as a given: some environmental issues may not be a teacher’s fault. There’s only so much one person can do in (for instance) an inner-city school where many kids are malnourished, shell-shocked, and abused. But regardless of where blame is placed, this sort of thing makes teaching hard.
3. Good teachers discard baggage from their own education and think hard about all received wisdom and tradition, questioning the validity of each “that’s just the way it is” practice. We are all affected by tradition, so this is very hard to do. One must neither blindly accept a tradition nor reject it, just to be different. One must painstakingly evaluate each one.
Even knowing what to examine is hard, because we don’t think of most traditions as traditions. We don’t remember learning them. They’re just things we do and have always done without examining them. There are also ones that seem to make “common sense,” which is dangerous, because common sense is extremely prone to confirmation bias.
4. Schools, parents, and society throw a huge number of obstacles at teachers, generally trying to manipulate them into doing anything other than what I mentioned at the start of this post: “helping a student learn more about a subject, gain enthusiasm for the it, and also helping him learn how to study the subject on his own.”
These obstacles include conflicting goals, such as “good grades,” “getting into college,” “preparation for corporate careers,” unexamined (but enforced) traditions (“it’s just the way we do things”), suffocating bureaucracy, and career issues, such as low pay and lack-of job security.
5. Teachers must be knowledgable about their subject(s), teaching methods, communication skills, leadership techniques, and psychology. And they must continually study these things for their entire careers. Most aren’t willing (or able) to do this. It’s a big load on-top-of classroom work and home life.
I would sum all this up by saying that there’s no way to be a casual good teacher. You can’t “just show up.” It’s not that kind of profession. You can be a good, smart, caring person and still fail because you think of teaching as a profession instead of as a “calling.”
Interested in reading more?
Read this excerpt from the Literacy worldwide.org From Be fabulous: The Reading Teacher’s Guide to reclaiming your happinessin the Classroom by Jennifer Scoggin