On Learning to Teach

The one thing that has not changed during my 35 years in education is that teachers complain about anything they perceive as “not practical.” When I was an undergraduate student, by classmates and I sat in the corridors of the building s in which education classes met (usually drinking coffee– a truly useful skill for being an educator) and complained about the readings that had been assigned. We were always hoping to identify an education professor who’d help us know how to teach when we got into our own classrooms. In retrospect, I see that we were hoping for classes that were job-training; we wanted to know what to do and what our students would learn. What we were experiencing was a series of professors who were assigning to us the task of reading John Dewey and similar thinkers and discussing the implication of the ideas for our classrooms.

The reason our education professors did not run “job training” for teachers is that there is no single way to teach anything. Despite the widespread belief that “what worked for me” will work for everyone, there are many variables that affect how one experiences a classroom and how those experiences will change a student’s ability to interact with information and with other humans in the future.

Despite this conclusion, educators continue to search for someone who has the recipe that is the panacea– we want someone to find this recipe just like the alchemists sought the recipe for transforming lead into gold. Anyone who has one or advocates for one, including those principals and administrators who hire the consultants, are jousting at windmills.

The harsh reality for those who are entering the profession as well as those veterans who have sat through hundreds of presentations at conferences and at in-service railings is that they are going to be faced with the task of inventing (and reinventing) the conditions in heir classrooms that are necessary for the current group of students to learn what must be learned. The same harsh reality must be recognized by the business and political leaders who seek to mandate learning through laws and those who seek to install their recipe for educational success.