Good Teaching

I have just finished reading an article by Claire Golledge titled Listen to the children. This is what ‘good’ teaching looks like to them.

Based on interviews with students around their perceptions of teacher quality and quality teaching, it was found that students valued the relationship they had with their teacher first and foremost, a variety of teaching methods and teachers who could inspire through their deep subject knowledge. Claire states “…students saw the best teachers as those who used engaging and innovative pedagogies to, as one student expressed it, “get us out of our comfort zone.””

This is interesting and I can’t wait to talk to Claire at the upcoming AARE conference to find out more about her research. I admit that this doesn’t necessarily corrospond with my own personal experience as a student, a teacher and also in my role as Director of Teaching and Learning. Of course everything depends on context and I have found that when students have a relationship with the teacher everything else can follow. If the relationship breaks down, then both parents and students question the use of innovative pedagogies. What constitutes a good student-teacher relationship will be left for another day, but this article made me reflect on two Professors I had in University. These two gentleman had a subtle, yet profound impact on the way I approach teaching and learning.

One was a short German fellow who often stopped mid-sentence and stared out the window. One time we asked him what he was doing and he told us he was letting his mind wonder and just stopping his thoughts momentarily to enjoy the beauty of the universe. He encouraged us to do the same, whenever we felt the need, as he believed it promoted deep thinking and an unconscious advantage when engaged in heavy cognitive lifting – particular in that Advanced Calculus class. I thought this was eccentric at the time but appreciate the simplicity and beauty of it now. He was wonderfully supportive and encouraging, quite explicit, and would not hesitate in giving you critical feedback.

Another Professor taught Advanced Cryptography. He was the opposite. Very abstract and wanted us to think and learn for ourselves. He would pose interesting problems that hadn’t yet been solved and expect us to grapple with them.  He would often stand very close to the whiteboard, facing the white board, trying to show us how to work through a complicated problem. He would mumble, scribble some stuff on the board, rub it out, start rubbing his head perplexed, stare at the board some more, go to start writing on the board again only to stop, scratch his beard – you get the picture. Often times he would take 20 minutes trying to figure out how to explain something to us or how to solve a particular problem. Most of the class thought that he was either unprepared or just didn’t know what he was doing. I found it very difficult at the time.

With the benefit of hindsight I now think different about this experience. On reflection I was seeing a mathematician in pure problem solving mode, grappling with complexity and pushing himself to the edge of both personal and discipline knowledge. He was modelling, perhaps unintentionally, thought processes and the way he approached difficulty. What would of it had taken for me to be aware of this at the time? Perhaps he needed to be explicit to the class and explain to us this would be his approach and what we as learners of the subject would get out of it as a result?

What I am sure about is that there is no one formula for great teaching and that’s what makes our profession such a rewarding one. Just like learning is a deeply personal endeavour – so is teaching. Teacher quality does matter. We want great teachers teaching the eager young minds of tomorrow. We also have to work with those we currently have in the profession and understand that teaching quality matters more.

Comments

  1. I always find ‘good teaching’ intriguing. In part I hear Bruce Dixon/Will Richardson yelling that it is ‘all about learning’, but then I have Gert Biesta discussing the purpose of education. Thinking back over all the different contexts that I have found myself in I feel that ‘good’ was as much about working with the students in front of you or the staff next door. One lesson I learnt early in my career is that not every strategy works in every situation. I wonder then if ‘good’ is as much a verb as it is an act described?

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