During these last few weeks, I’ve spent a great deal of time investigating questions key to language education. I believe I have emerged with a few key answers.
Babble about “Teaching 2.0” and “Learning 2.0” and a “Learning Paradigm” seek to place greater responsibility for learning on the student; however, this is actually placing greater responsibility for teaching onto the student. Given that much of the deterioration of the modern education system comes from too little teaching, not too much, inviting teachers to teach even less is providing a tempting disincentive to provide quality to stakeholders (namely, students and their families).
First of all, the “teacher as coach” approach (or “teacher as buddy”) means pointing learners to a wide variety of sources on the Internet to relieve the teacher of the burden of teaching (notwithstanding most have the curriculum spoon-fed to them to begin with). The problem with this is elementarily simple: Most of these resources aren’t good enough. The ones that are, generally are not suitable for teaching due to being written in too remote and academic a vocabulary.
More importantly, the “teacher as sage” model that “Learning 2.0” etc. is intended to replace fails at a critical level: teachers needed to have really been sages to begin with. Most, I think it is fair to say, are not very effective sages. For a teacher to be worth bothering with, the teacher must be an expert; otherwise, the student feels no compulsion to listen and will simply, if he can summon the motivation, check things out on Wikipedia later. If the teacher is no more effective, or better educated, than Wikipedia, he does not deserve, nor can he command, the student’s respect.
Now, I don’t think that a great teacher ever demands respect. A great teacher earns respect from his every word and deed. In fact, I have a concept of teaching that I call, to use a little gratuitous Oriental mysticism, teaching without “teaching.” This means: to teach through leading by example and demonstration as opposed to simply teaching through lecturing. Anyone can lecture; I find myself fairly gifted at it. I would never trust lecturing alone to teach anyone anything important, however.
In language, the language teacher teaches through proper pronunciation, superior and consistent usage of grammar, and through demanding excellence from himself. This is the intangible context behind the tangible lessons provided at each well-defined stage. The teacher doesn’t need to make everything “I Teacher, You Student”; some of the best learning is surely done through osmosis and absorption rather than mere bombardment and reception.
At any rate, rather than ditch the teacher as sage model, I prefer to frame the issue thusly: the teacher should teach better, not less. Better is more. Gripping, interesting methods also fight against information overload, excess learner stress, and the mental shutoff that takes place when stress reaches a high enough level. Only once such quality is first achieved should adjustments be made for a particular individual’s needs.
What does this leave? For one thing, course content must be wisely determined. In our modern era of social media and easier lines of communication with potential and actual learners, particularly in adult language education (which is my personal focus), it’s possible to exhaustively survey what the customers (which is how we should think of learners) want in the product. Of course, as the tutors/ teachers are (or should be!) the experts, such opinions must be mixed with expert viewpoints about what needs to be learned. A competent combination of what customers want and need (but don’t necessarily know they need yet) is a winning combination.
From there, all that remains is to create a vast amount of appropriate content, to market it, and to teach it. It’s a large job, but it’s amazingly simple when crunched down to its essential elements.
In conclusion, good teaching isn’t about making students responsible for teaching themselves; it’s about teachers (and in my case, tutors) taking responsibility and living, breathing, and sleeping quality in everything they do. If we regard teaching as more than just the content of a class’ lessons, a teacher must also teach without overt teaching, leading by example with every posture and action.
High quality teaching for high quality life.