On Not Being Taught How to Teach

I left high school as a 17-year-old (yes, I am old enough that they let me start school a few weeks before my fifth birthday) who knew that he wanted to become a science teacher. My path to my undergraduate as not as circuitous as many, so five years later I was a middle school teacher.

As an undergraduate student, I became fixated on learning. I wanted to know how teachers made it happened. I wanted my professors to tell me how to teach.

In my quest to learn how to teach, the faculty of the university were quite uncooperative. I wanted them to teach me how to teach, but they had me reading Seymour Papert, Theodore Roszak, and John Dewey. We videotaped lessons and discussed them; we role-played and planned lessons. They just told me to do it but didn’t tell me how. By the time I graduated, I had given up hope of being taught how to teach. By the time I got through my first year in the classroom, I realized they had.

Looking back on three decades in education, I understand that theories of learning affect the decisions we make as educators. I understand as well there are many theories of learning, some of which are mutually contradictory, and all of which an be useful in some situations. My undergraduate professors exposed me to sophisticated ideas about learning; they gave me the chance to craft lessons based on those ideas and to reflect on those lessons. This is how we learn to teach.