I stumbled across this very good blog from “Faculty Focus”
It outlines an age old problem – what actually is the role of the teacher, and what do we mean by the terms “teaching” and “learning.” A topic can only be said to have been taught when the learners have learned what is being taught. Now, I want to make a confession here. It’s about stalagmites and stalactites. I’ve never learned which is which. Many people have tried to teach me. I’ve been taught various lessons about which ones “hang on tight” and are held with “all their might” but I can never remember which is which. OK so before writing this article I googled it and now, I think, I know, but otherwise, I hadn’t learned it and so technically I had never been taught this despite attending several lessons during which the teacher would have claimed to have taught me the difference.
A rather silly example, but the distinction between teaching and learning is a subtle one. In the blog I reference here, the writer alludes to a student who makes the claim that “the teacher didn’t teach us anything, we had to learn it all for ourselves.” An immediate conclusion to jump to here is that the teacher is at fault. The teacher is paid to teach and so the students in the classroom should not be expected to have to learn for themselves. In fact it would be easy to see how that teacher would end up being disciplined by a superior saying “I pay you to teach! Why are you letting these poor students do all the work for themselves?” But you’d have to be careful here. The superior may have a very good point. If the students are learning nothing from their teacher, he or she is in dereliction of his or her responsibilities as an educationalist and not fulfilling his or her most basic of job descriptions.
However there is a fine line here, because “learning” should not be a passive process. Learning is hard work. Learning requires us to make mistakes and take wrong turns before coming up with the right solution or the right outcome. I’ve heard this described as “the pit.” A dark place in which the student feels like they’re getting nowhere, only to finally and successfully climb out of the pit once the topic has been learned. The teacher’s role is to facilitate this process. The teacher is the facilitator of learning in any classroom or with any student or group of students. They create the environment and the circumstances in which their students are able to learn.
This does not necessarily mean that they “tell” the students about a topic or that they act as a source of information for the student (although it may do). A very good teacher will provide the tools and the materials and the environment and the circumstances and the support in which, with their guidance, learners are able to solve problems, create images, develop understanding, think critically, make comments (or whatever) and the learner may FEEL like they “learned it themselves.” The student would be correct, they did “learn it for themselves,” because what other type of learning is there? You can’t learn something for someone else and no one else can learn for you.
Key strategies in this process are:
- Engaging learners
- Giving appropriate and timely feedback
- Encouraging independent learning
- Challenging learners
So my point is that a good teacher would ensure that his or her students learned EVERYTHING for themselves and what looks like good teaching could be nothing more than good provision of information or a good resource or a good technique. Staff in schools with “teaching and learning” responsibilities in reality just have “learning” responsibilities. You can’t have teaching without learning, if nothing has been learned nothing has been taught. So if you want to know if you’re a good teacher, make sure you check what has been learned by your students. If they’ve learned it, you’ve taught it. Congratulations!