10 Ways to Be a Better Teacher

by CarlD

Just picked up this great quote on teaching from Rough Theory:

“…the first thing I learned as a teacher was that nobody is a good teacher for everybody, which I found a very bitter lesson. Slightly later in life I learned the corollary, which I found even worse in a way – that just about everybody is a good teacher for somebody. You meet these incredible klutzes, and it turns out there is somebody out there for whom they have made all of the difference. This observation led me to conclude that teaching is not a method, it’s a name for a whole group of social situations in which all kinds of things happen and about which it is not possible to say anything really very useful on a technical level.” – James Renfield

I can attest to all of this, including the further corollaries that we all look like incredible klutzes to someone; exactly the thing that makes us good in one situation makes us lousy in another; and being someone’s most favorite teacher unavoidably means being someone’s least.

Does this mean that “it’s all good?” Not by a long shot. But it does suggest that a certain diversity of teaching approach is a desirable thing, if not in individuals then certainly in departments and schools.


2 Responses to “10 Ways to Be a Better Teacher”

  1. This part seems to have been well-understood by a lot of people but they also seem to only think about it in some contexts.
    What I mean is… You go to this teaching workshop. Everybody there is able to talk about diverse learning styles and teaching styles as being valuable. And then you’re told about some technique, method, or strategy which is supposed to be somehow better than the other ones. Usually backed up by the usual “studies have shown” claims.
    Not that every teaching workshop is like that. I’ve been in teaching workshops which paid more than lipservice to the diversity of approaches to learning and teaching. Some of them even leave room for discussion of learning and teaching outside of the formal classroom context. It’s still remarkable how little attention is paid, generally, to the fact that “there’s more than one to do it.”
    My personal reaction to statements about “what we should be doing” used to be a bit of a knee-jerk. I’m probably not the only teacher who dislikes being told what to do. But I eventually got beyond this knee-jerk reaction and started paying attention to these other views of teaching. Sure, I still think university learning shouldn’t be about rote memorization. But even I can see the advantages of rote memorization (in a musical ensemble or in a madrasa, for instance).

    The lesson, there, seems to be about context. There’s an appropriate context for any teaching method and there are appropriate learning methods for specific learning contexts. Not a preset formula. More of an ex post facto realization of what went well.

    For several reasons, I grew up thinking that “learning happens despite teaching.” My role as a teacher was predefined as that of building a context in which learning can effectively happen. There have been successes and failures, in my young teaching career. But I still evaluate my teaching quite positively.
    If nothing else, it gave me appropriate experience to discuss learning, in diverse contexts.


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