Someone else’s blog posting has taken me to a bit of a rant:
…the key to effective teaching is not the content information I have in my head, but the ability and skills to help students find the motivation within themselves to want learn about the subject matter. I don’t have to be an expert in that content subject in order to make that happen.
Thankfully the blogger went on to add There needs to be a balance.
I think sometimes we forget that we do not have the time in our clichéd ‘crowded curriculum’ for students to discover every iota of information for themselves. It helps that the core information is available on tap from the teacher and, heaven forbid, textbooks. As much as we like to be teaching our students how to research, have inquiring minds, problem solve and to learn for life rather than exams, too much of our school system is geared towards passing tests and writing content heavy essays to prove how much has been learnt rather than how the mind works.
In the subjects I teach it is very important for me to stay abreast of current events, particularly economics and social issues. To do this I read a lot and attend conferences. Attending economics lectures (with accompanying notes) provide me with a wealth of information that would take a multitude of hours for me to research. The same is true of the classroom. Sometimes teacher exposition is the easiest way to move through content quickly. Sometimes the easiest way to learn for exams is to memorise content. In an exam based system it can’t always be about enthusiasm, engagement and enjoyment. Besides, we should also be teaching our students resilience and that life isn’t always about being happy about what we are doing. In other words, to occasionally just ‘suck it up’.
As I enter my seventh year of teaching I can look back and reflect how much my teaching methods have expanded, much helped by the IT resources provided by my school. I can see how students are more engaged, self-directed and enjoying my subjects. However, it has occurred as I have become more confident with the content. I am more willing to experiment with methods when I have my feet planted in knowledge. Also, with the time saved by already having gained the knowledge I can spend time on developing new ways of teaching it. Too often we forget, particularly with new teachers, how long it can take to learn content. We need to reduce teacher stress, particularly in the early years.
I am a passionate teacher and this works well whether I feel strong in a topic’s knowledge or not. The first time I taught Society and Culture I was thrown into it mid-semester during my second year of teaching and had to scramble to stay ahead of the students but the students and I still enjoyed it. The best lessons were when we were entirely off topic, but that will have to be the subject of a different post. The second time I taught Society and Culture I changed one of the optional topics and said to the students that we’d be learning it together. I was only able to do this because I had proven I had enough core knowledge in the subject to give the students confidence that it was going to be a positive learning experience.
Balance is a word I use frequently. Teachers need to have a balance of content and pedagogy training. I just think we need to be more aware of how they go hand-in-hand. One is useless without the other.