07 September 2018

What’s A Teacher To Do?

The traditional concept of teaching is framed as the delivery of knowledge, skills and information. 
There are occasional flourishes added by those seeking to be alternative or more holistic, but the core remains the same. 
Teachers are thought of as the machine stamping a world-view into the raw material, the construction foreman coordinating the assembly of a world-view, the writer composing a world-view on a blank slate, or the gardener cultivating the growth of a world-view. 
What they all have in common is the active role of the teacher in the student's developing world-view. 
The student is, at best, thought of as a plant that needs to be nourished, while the teacher is the gardener. 

Consider a new possibility (skipping the obvious step of equating students with herd animals, such as goats), see the students as people. 
Not like people, but as humans with the same needs, wants and desires as every other human on the planet. 
If the model of narrative needs is correct {as presented in the book Attitude First}, then these are needs that exist from birth, or soon thereafter. 
If the school environment is fundamentally a way of conveying shared narratives, then the job of any teacher is helping every student learn to thrive. 
All knowledge, skills, and information should be subservient to this goal. 
The essential task of the teacher is helping the student gain proficiency within the narrative contexts in which the student currently exists. 
The teacher-centric perspective of education concerns itself with the objective world shared by teacher and student, and succeeds through the measurable transference of knowledge, skills, and information. 
A truly learner-centric perspective shifts concern to how the student experiences the world and succeeds through the development of a variety of robust and accessible attitudes. 
The units of self that are involved in this process (teachers and students) are not simply objects to be manipulated. 
They are living systems participating in the flow of life itself and they have gathered together in order to achieve a qualitative change in how those playing the role of the student interact with that flow. 
The teacher is responsible for creating certain conditions (safety, openness, and trust) in which the student can successfully reorient him- or herself to the larger flow. 
If the teacher fails to establish these conditions, then they have failed professionally and most likely the student will fail in achieving their desired outcome. 
However, even if the teacher succeeds in creating these conditions, there is still no guarantee that the student will succeed. 
In this second case where the student is not succeeding, the teacher has met her professional obligations, and failure, if it occurs, lies in one of a large number of other possible places. 

The Good Versus The Great Teacher

The distinction between a good teacher and a great teacher is in how they respond to failures in the second case. 
Great teachers will go well beyond their own concepts of teaching and (within their professional responsibilities) discover some way to relate to the individual student so that the outcome is definitely available to the student. 
Of course, the student may still choose to reject that outcome, but that is an inherent risk in teaching. 
The only attitude that the teacher can change is her own, but she can attempt to catalyze a change in her student's attitude by providing a special harbor within the river in which the student can discover and experiment with different attitudes or ways to influence their own attitude. 
The primary tools available to the teacher are respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness. 
She knows the student is wielding the tools of physical energy, emotional connection, mental focus, and spiritual alignment. 
Together, teacher and student simply work on the student's ability to navigate on purpose, instead of on accident, within the on-going flow of life itself.

Teachers of specific subjects are charged with helping students develop an experience of the world that is shaped by the collective reality that defines the field of study under consideration. 
A biology teacher is charged with a responsibility to assist students to filter out the information that is not relevant to the biology community—like who's dating whom within the department—and with opening up their filters to include information that is relevant—like whose mating with whom in an animal study. 
The expert in a field of study is one who has an extremely well-developed view of the world from the perspective of that community. 
The expert sees the world through the filters of the discipline and knows “instinctively” what is relevant and what is not. 
Good teachers in a field of study are those who are highly effective at helping others join in and make meaningful contributions to that community's narrative world. 
As we all know, the experts are not always good teachers and good teachers are not always experts. 

Elementary school teachers don't have the benefit of a specific disciplinary community and narrative world that they are charged with participating in and helping students to join. 
Actually, they are currently charged with perpetuating the institutionalization of children according to the dictates of the industrial classroom, but that is not an explicit goal, merely a pervasive implicit one. 
And therein lies the crux of the school problem.
The rest of this site is concerned with how to change the context of teaching by shifting education policytowards supporting teachers better.

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