What do teachers actually do?

Oct 13, 2015 Categories: Education Today

I get asked a lot what teachers actually do. Well, I could give the sarcastic answer of ‘what don’t they do!?!, it’s not all 3pm finishes and school holidays you know!” But I’m not that rude :0). The real answer is that our main task as teachers is pedagogy. It’s the method and practice of teaching.

So just as biologists study life, and geologists study the earth. We study learning. That’s our job. More than that though teaching is about helping others learn by understanding how learning happens – literally how stuff happens in human brains to create knowledge and understanding. How do we look at a flower and are able to say “That’s a flower, it has roots to get water and leaves to catch sunlight. I know this because I saw another thing that looked similar and it was also called a flower.” How do our brains access that knowledge, connect that ‘fact’ to other similar facts and make a judgement. When it comes down to it, our brains are just muscle – highly complex and a huge mystery but a muscle. How does a muscle feel, learn, grow or have opinions. This is what we learn at University. How do we best help all children develop knowledge and understandings?

The most popular theory about how we learn is called Social-Constructivist theory. Fancy words. But it just means that learning happens with other people (socially) and is created through a group – literally for each other and with each other. The theory goes that we are constantly creating meaning about things by talking and observing and interacting with other people. These actions help us make sense of the world. This knowledge and understanding changes every time we interact with other people and get more ‘input’ that we compare to what we know or believe.

So all of that theory is just to say – that’s why working in teams or group projects or partner work is so important in schools. And why we know that rote learning things like times tables isn’t all our kids need to experience – it’s much, much more complex than that.

We need to support kids to learn from and with each other so that real learning happens.

A big thing I say regularly to the trainee-teachers I work with is:

Telling is not Teaching

And it’s not. We can’t tell someone something and have them turn that into knowledge in their heads. Brains don’t work that way. If we tell kids a fact, they will need time, examples, interaction and conversation before it becomes ‘fact’ for them. And then they will be constantly comparing that ‘fact’ to everything else they see and hear and do.

So that’s my little rant for the week – teaching is extremely complex and involves understanding how brains actually make sense of the world, which means that simply telling someone something is NOT teaching.

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