About 2 months before my summer vacation Carl Hendrick wrote a post titled ‘Should teachers be told how to teach by those who’ve never been teachers themselves?’ Being a teacher educator for secondary education teachers without having a teacher degree in secondary education myself I was afraid to read it. The title sounded a bit too much like a rhetorical question. I was also afraid to read it because I sometimes think this way myself.
Hendrick uses Michael Polanyi’s definition of ‘tacit knowledge’ to make his point. Tacit knowledge according to Polanyi is everything we know how to do but cannot explicitly explain how we do it. Teaching is a domain in which this tacit knowledge is vital. Hendrick sums up some nice examples of tacit knowledge in teaching like knowing how to phrase a question just right to a particular kind of class who are struggling or knowing how one particular student will respond to one particular kind of feedback. These kinds of things are hard to define let alone teach to someone els. Very often what teachers do exactly is invisible for themselves let alone for an untrained eye, like student teachers.
However, this is exactly what I have my students doing in their first few weeks of teacher training. Observe and discuss. Help the teacher training you in practice to make his tacit knowledge explit. Observe and discuss. Ask questions based on concrete teacher behavior and ask why he acted in that way. Observe and discuss. Take your observations and the teacher’s answers to your questions with you to my class and let’s share our observations and results. Can we together try to make all the gathered implicit knowledge explicit, combine it with theory, add your own experiences as teachers to it along the way, turning it in to YOUR tacit knowledge?
In my view this is exactly what happens in teacher training, or at least in my courses. I do not dictate theoretical knowledge and then expect my students to be a teachers. I focus very very much on the tacit knowledge and encourage them to try to get that as much as possible. I see it as my task to HELP them make the tacit knowledge explicit. And yes, without having a teaching degree in secondary education I do believe I can help my students with that. Because observing isn’t easy, asking questions isn’t either and questioning the behavior of a teacher should be done with some delicacy yet without being okay with a simple answer like ‘I just do it this way’. I believe I can help them and at the very least create the opportunity during our meetings to share and discuss.
I also see it as my task to HELP them connect their observations to theory. Yes, I feel that besides practical wisdom teachers need a solid theoretical base. I can provide the theory (don’t need a educational degree for that part) and help them see the link between their observations and the theory.
And finally, I see it as my task to HELP them connect the tacit knowledge and theory to their own experiences as teachers.
So, I do not TELL my student how to teach, I HELP them become the teachers they want to be perhaps by ‘connecting the dots’. By looking, questionning, help them experiment, discuss and let them grow. And besides me, there are teacher trainers who were or still are a teacher in the team surrounding the student. Of course, they ALSO have a teacher at the school guiding them and learning them the tricks of the trade during their internship. However, the fact that that teacher is qualified, does not mean he can TELL my students how to teach. He has to share his knowledge, but never with the idea that the teacher trainer should do as he does. Provide a save space to look, experiment, discuss and grow is all there is to it.
Why was I afraid to read Carl’s post? Because sometimes I wonder myself if my lack of practical experience hinders my students. That’s why I was open en honest during the first lecture. This is me, these are my doubts, this is how I feel about it, here are my ways of improving and here are the things I’m good at. I bet we’ll have a great year, WE’RE IN IT TOGETHER!