“Teaching is a natural gift; it cannot be taught through college training.” This statement posted on a substitute teacher’s forum was actually directed to me based on some previous discussion around the qualifications for a substitute teacher. I decided not to engage in a “nature versus nurture” debate and actually fell back on my “it depends,” answer to the question “What do you say?”
One of the things teachers must learn is to make sure you understand the question before you answer it. I’m still not sure if this was a question about teaching or a question about the value of a college education. But it did set me to thinking.
I think some of the fundamental qualities required to be a teacher are not easily taught. A couple of examples:
- A love of children
- A love of learning
- A love of teaching/nurturing
- Flexible thinking skills
I do think those qualities can be learned. There is a, however, a difference between learning and teaching. I know a lot of people (kids included) who are tired of being taught but are anxious to learn. One of the distinguishing features of an outstanding teacher is his or her ability to engage the learners and make learning “fun.”
When I started in the business of education, my focus was on adults. Macolm Knowles was just developing his adult learning theory and the word “andragogy” was becoming commonplace. They were heady times for educators. As is often the case with new concepts, an unfortunate polarity developed. The term “pedagogy” had been around longer, applied to child learning. No one thought to raise the question of whether or not it makes sense to draw such a solid line between child learning and adult learning. We were too enamored of the labels and the differences.
But I digress–mostly to make the point that adults tend to be more task-oriented and self-directed learners than kids. For most adults, learning is about application rather than memorization.
Colleges have been too slow to recognize this difference as an opportunity. Ironically, there has been a tendency to cling to teaching methods more suited to kids. Another digression we could take–what is the teacher’s role in teaching students how to learn?
When we look at teaching, there’s a lot that can be taught in a classroom–college or otherwise– including strategies and techniques. But if we’re not careful, we end up with the equivalent of trying to teach someone how to play tennis without spending any time on the court.
I “interviewed” my niece (Thanks, Abigail!) for this article–she’s currently completing her student teaching, a 75 day (15 weeks–one semester) assignment. She estimates that 15-25% of her college program involves actual teaching–partly because she ended up team teaching during her observations. Not all students get that opportunity–much depends on the supervising teacher.
Can teaching be taught in college? We need to be cautious about one-dimensional thinking and yes or no answers. If we think the answer is found in whether or not the teacher can pass the test, let’s remember that the real test isn’t a final exam or achieving certification. The real test will happen in the classroom–one reason it’s important to learn there. Or maybe in a Dr. Seuss like way, we should be learning “here, and there, and everywhere.”