Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Myths and Facts about School (part three)

Originally posted as a Facebook note on August 17

Myth: Teachers know everything!

Fact: Teachers don't know everything (not even close), but have been trained to equip you to think about their subject area and to provide worthwhile, constructive feedback.

As I've taken a few baby-steps into my teaching career over the last few years, I've learned that it bothers me when students assume that I know the textbook inside and out. I had a teacher in high school who would never own up to not knowing something when students asked questions he couldn't answer, instead sidestepping and telling the student that they'd receive extra credit if they found the answer for themselves. I resented this tactic at the time but have come to appreciate the pressures involved in saying "I don't know." It's tough for you students to hear that, I understand! There's some safety and security in believing that some other human being has all the answers... and, there's also some safety and security in having the students believe you know all the answers, as a teacher. Realistically, though, we teachers know but a fraction of all there is to know of our subject area. Still, having gone through education and subject area classes in college and perhaps beyond, our fraction is larger than yours as students... so what does this mean?

It means that we teachers must not stop learning simply because we've gotten our degrees and teaching licenses--it means that when we look at the fractional knowledge that we have, we must recognize that we'll never know everything, and also that we can continually model a passion for learning to our students (and also model effective learning). We can teach through our own discovery. Some of my coolest connecting moments with my classes over the last two years have been times where I could say "Hey guys, I just realized something--" and could go on to explain what I'd just discovered or learned, and how I'd figured it out. When students see their teacher get excited about learning, they get excited too.

With the knowledge that we have as teachers, we are experts only in a relative sense (that being, we know more than the students), but this relative expertise enables us to see what is truly important about our subject area, especially for those who are just starting to learn about it. I think it would be much harder for an expert or a specialist whose brains store a multitude of detail to step back and look at the big picture. Teachers have just the right amount of knowledge for this--we can support our understanding with specific examples but we're not so zoomed in that we can't see patterns, relationships, trends and themes. Our education training equips us to design activities and assignments that will engage you as students, hopefully causing you to think through the most important questions about the subject. Throughout the year, we work together to improve this thought process, to make it sharper and quicker and to enhance the ways in which you communicate and show your understanding. We teachers don't know all the answers, but all is not lost! We're trained to help you think through and answer the questions that need to be answered most urgently. Every thing else, every other small detail... well, you can find those online if you know how to search effectively.

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