Wednesday, April 13, 2016

When Teaching Isn't Teaching

While pedaling to campus this morning I was suddenly struck by a thought. (This happens more often...)
If my students aren't learning, am I actually teaching?

You know what I mean?

I know there are days where I am clearly doing the work of presenting content in class.

I lecture.

I demonstrate.

I assign readings.

I show a video clip.

I ask questions of the students.

I ask students to share their stories.

I arrange materials for hands-on activities.

I ask my students to do ridiculous things--like bring three pairs of socks to Intro to Ed. (Yes, that last one actually happened yesterday...I taught them to juggle.)

I do a lot of things in my work of teaching.

But what if my students don't actually learn anything by my song-and-dance? What if they go through the motions, do the things I ask them to do, play the game...but don't come away having learned something new, made meaning of the materials, found clarity where there was confusion.

Have I really taught?

What if teaching isn't really teaching unless there is learning? And how does this thought impact what I do in my classroom today?

That golden time when I have a few moments to get
centered...helps me to feel fully ready to teach!
Image by David Mulder [CC BY-SA 2.0]


  1. Replies
    1. Glad I'm not the only one! Teaching is weird, isn't it? There is still some mystery involved, even after all my years of practicing this, and learning more about curriculum and instruction, and experimenting with my pedagogy. I feel like I keep getting a little better...but I continue to wonder about my effectiveness. Interesting...

  2. I guess if you learned something from the whole ordeal, then, yes -- you taught someone! :)

  3. That's a great point, Joe'l! Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. I've felt this way a lot throughout the years. Sometimes I wonder if what I do matters. But I think we need to remember that some learning needs to "percolate" and we might not see the moment when that learning kicks in with a student. It's hard to do a job when you don't always see the end product!

    1. You're so right, Deb! I've said before that I think teaching is like planting seeds, but not being around for the harvest. I might be the one to plant, someone else waters, still another pulls weeds, and none of us might actually see the fruit! Thanks for the encouragement, friend.

  5. Fascinating point... should we call people teachers who don't teach, although arguably learning is always happening, it just might be the wrong lesson - "here he goes again, better save my cognitive energies for something worthwhile..." I was shocked recently to hear an administrator talk about the conspiracy against learning, another talk about the need for agile systems within educational institutions. I've never heard school leaders talk this way. Hope! In the meantime maybe we should all take different titles - striver, poser, here-for-the-paycheck-er, etc...

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment in response. I think you are right on that learning is always happening--the hidden curriculum is alive and well!

      Very interesting too for me to read the administrator comments you shared. Hope is also alive and well! :-)