Friday, August 12, 2011

Teaching: Hard or Easy?

It's been interesting on twitter this week, in itself not unusual; a recurring topic has been teaching hard or easy. A colleague was almost politely flamed for a statement which caused the reader to infer that teaching was easy.  It was funny to me because a long-running joke is that we want t-shirts with "TEACHING HARD." Then an internet colleague started tweeting and wrote about how teaching is easy.



I agree with both?

(Once again, I wish I was a graphic designer.)

On the Teaching Easy side is Aristotle's argument. (HT to Matt Wyneken who is a good spokesman for this.) Teachers, gardeners and doctors have natural work. People learn, plants grow, and bodies heal. These professions seek to encourage them to it better.  The principles of learning are something with which we all have familiarity, since we have all learned.  And I do think if my preservice teachers can just learn to assess student's understanding and reflect on their practice, that no matter where they start they will attain teaching excellence. That's a pretty simple recipe. Learning is exciting and furthers our purposes and people really enjoy it when it's authentic.

On the Teaching Hard side is the Problem. Each class is composed of 30ish (or more) individuals with completely different experiences, preferences and purposes that we are supposed to guide to an equal understanding of the same objectives.   We often don't get to pick the objectives, or our materials, or our consequences, or our pacing chart or... And the people who have the most say about our conditions seem opposed to listening to teachers because they are partisans on the matter.

Furthermore, the individual problem of the most challenging students is , finding problems for them, determining effective support for someone who seems to learn so differently than you, overcoming years or decades of negative and false feedback in a culture that says our subject is impossible for all but a select few and irrelevant.  You have to solve entry problems to get an opportunity to work on your essential problems.

Frankly, the difficulty of the problem puts most mathematical problems to shame. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: "If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is."  ~John von Neumann

It is real work. A true vocation. I'm so blessed to both be a teacher and work with teachers.

same as it ever was
Love to hear what you think: hard or easy?

Photo credit: Richard Masoner @ Flickr

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