Teacher, know thyself

There are clearly many effective schools (I have a problem with the range of superlatives currently employed to describe effective schools: outstanding, strong, excellent,…and the most recent….exceptional) in the UK. There are clearly many that are not. There are also clearly many effective teachers, too. There appears to be no consensus on what makes a school effective, nor on what makes a teacher effective. There are plenty of people who think they know the answer to these questions, but, generally, evidence is lacking.

Education is very context dependent. There are loads of confounding factors, as education is very complex. How can the analysis of effectiveness be simplified? What’s left if we remove system factors and philosophical underpinnings? Here are two to start with:

1. The teacher must know what they are talking about, and the students must know that the teacher knows.

2. The teacher must really want the students to know what they, the teacher, know, and the students must know that, too.

How far does this get us? (let me know).


[To be continued……I think]


12 thoughts on “Teacher, know thyself

  1. Christine Counsell

    Thank you chemistry poet. This is a very short reply to a very short post. My answer to your question is: It gets us a very very long way. It perhaps even gets us right to the end of where we need to get. I’m just going to be enigmatic, as you have been, rather than spell this out, but I think the hidden depths of what you write lie in the “what” of your Point 1 – to know ‘What’ in all its fullness, is profound and hard, and vitally important. What does it mean to know about the ‘what?’ – the structure, meaning, value and power of the discipline we teach? In your point 2 “The teacher must really want” is also all. Not “really want them to pass the exam” (which might be a shadow of the thing itself and possibly even a deceptive or damaging shadow), but really want them to be part of the discipline – the ways of being, knowing and doing that it confers. Thank you for an inspiring post. Looking forward to Parts 2 to infinity.

    1. chemistrypoet Post author

      Thanks for your comments. Yes, complexity abounds, which is why this is tricky stuff to think through (but, apparently, we only make real progress when doing tough stuff). My perception is that students can tell about these two things, and respond.

  2. ijstock

    Very similar to something I’ve just written in a rather different context. If you don’t know yourself, you cannot know others; if you want to educate others, you have to start by being educated yourself. In a very real sense, we all teach ourselves before anything else, and if the role model isn’t good, I don’t see how we can expect the outcome to be.

    Many thanks for this – and looking forward to the rest. It’s a much-overlooked and very important point.

    1. chemistrypoet Post author

      Thanks for your comment. (Is there a link to your recent writing?) Self-awareness….yes, important….and the ‘role-model’ element. I view teaching as a profession; practiced by professionals…I think this aspect isn’t emphasised enough; it has an influence on ‘teacher’ and ‘student’…..

      1. ijstock

        I completely agree with what you say, including your replies to other comments.
        I’m afraid there isn’t a link to that writing as it’s something I hope will eventually appear in print. Early days yet, though, but suffice it to say I think the content would be of interest to you. One way or other it will eventually be available, even if I have to self-publish…

        In the meantime, can I offer a selection of posts on my own blog, which were some of the early thoughts that have led to the current work? I hope you’re up for some reading… 😉


  3. Tim Taylor

    Here’s my bullet point response. I wish I had the time to write a longer and more considered answer.

    – I agree there is no consensus. Was there ever?
    – I too hate all the asinine labels attached to schools, often without justification. We need to grow up as a profession and stop putting things into league tables like bored teenagers.
    – I agree education is very context dependent. And there are many effective ways to teach kids, some are even contradictory. Teaching is not only a craft, but an art. And great teachers (like great artists) often do things in their practice that defy orthodoxy.
    – The notion of “Best Practice” has done a great disservice to pedagogy. There is no ‘one’ way of teaching, no ‘best practitioners’ for the rest of us to follow and imitate. No formula for an ‘outstanding’ lesson. We need to let go of all of that.
    – Why? Because, as you say, education is a very complex process. Mulit-layered, nuanced, full of contradictions and paradoxes. Worst of all it is full of people, with their own drives, interests, problems, and motivations.
    – But the greatest fly in the ointment – is agency. Free-will, the human need to create meaning in our lives. Any pedagogy that ignores agency will always be missing the point, like ignoring the elephant in the room.
    – Knowledge is massively important. How could it not be? It is the straw that makes the bricks. But it is not everything. Bricks need other ingredients to make them strong, and a builder to lay them.
    – To continue my metaphor… bricks can be used to build a hen house, a garden wall, or the Segrada Familia. It depends, not on the straw alone, but on a builder with imagination, ambition, and the freedom to think and create.

    1. chemistrypoet Post author

      Tim. Many thanks. One of the reasons my blog post was so short was because I wanted to try and start at the core, as much as I could, then see what others thought, before adding to the core…….in shifting layers (as with more complexity will come more variable, but equally valid, ideas), I think. As we have explored before [see Tim’s blogs], meaning of the language used is often fraught, but key to mutual understanding. I am convinced that ‘teacher’ is an irreducible concept…but I am not yet clear how to proclaim it :).

  4. Pingback: Proclaiming the Irreducible-Teacher-Core | chemistrypoet

  5. Pingback: What’s a Teacher- summary so far | chemistrypoet

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