Teaching differs from other jobs. What other career have you observed day-in-day-out for 13 or more years before you embark on it? Most of us are lucky enough to observe only hours of the work of a doctor, a dentist or a mechanic. Unless we have a family member in the job, we’ve probably only seen a couple of days or weeks of the work of a nurse, a shopkeeper or a hairdresser. But most of us have observed teaching for several hours daily for years on end.
Because we’re so familiar with teaching, it looks easy. It doesn’t have the mystique or glamour of jobs such as software designer, barrister, entrepreneur, newspaper editor, engineer or chef. But in looking easy, teaching is deceptive. It is a complex and difficult job to execute well. As David Labraee says, in learning to teach we have to contend with learning the complexity of something that looks easy. We also have to be careful about who we learn from because many people who express opinions on teaching know little about the work.
What we know about the work of teaching comes from many different sources. Sometimes the information we receive about teaching is consistent and sometimes it is contradictory. The strength of influence each source has on our learning varies from one teacher to the next.
Your teaching today may be shaped by some of the following sources of learning about teaching:
• Experience as a student in a classroom over 13 years, what Lortie calls the “apprenticeship of observation”
• Conversations with colleagues in your own school or in other schools
• Websites, such as this, this or this.
• Professional development while teaching
• Initial teacher education
• Professional journals
• Teaching experience
• Discussion boards
If you were to rank these sources in order of which they contributed to your learning as a teacher, how would you order them?
If you were to rank the sources in order of which they are to be trusted, would the order be the same?
For me, attention to learning theory is crucial. Everyone is smart in one of the seven or eight categories. It’s a theory that was introduced by Howard Gardner years ago. Most schools dumped the theory but the idea that every learner is different and “smart” in someway holds water. If you like learning visually and can’t stand listening to oral instructions, how often do you get any? If you’re logical and enjoy math, being organized, and rational but you’re forced to sit through an art class for 70 mins, how happy are you going to be? If you like to be in motion and are an active learner, how pleased are you with sitting still through an English class? My perfect school would assess everyone’s learning style and the teachers would provide a meaningful montage of lessons that are more agreeable to a variety of learning styles. As it is now, for the most part in North America, we are still lodged in a 19th century model where everyone sits still and follows one lesson every period. I hate teaching that way and trust me, the students mostly hate learning that way! Parents and teachers, however, love it because it’s the familiar method we all encountered when we were in school. Just sayin’….