What is teaching to me? This question has been on my mind since the day I started teaching. And all throughout these years I haven’t had a concrete idea what it is to me. The reason probably is due to the fact that the meaning of teaching to me has constantly evolved as I go deeper into the practice. What I mean by this is that when I was a student, teaching to me was just that event where a person imparts knowledge to another person. This was how crudely teaching meant to me. But when I got hired in a University to teach, my view of teaching changed drastically. From just an event transpiring between two people, I started looking at teaching very shortsightedly as just an opportunity to earn a living. However, a year or so and several student evaluations later, I suddenly realized that teaching should be done skillfully so that students can appreciate what you are doing. By this time, I have come to realize that teaching is indeed a craft and not just an opportunity to tell someone what is inside your mind, nor is it just wasting 2 to 4 hours of a student’s life to present to them concepts in the exact way that is written in the book, something that so many university teachers still do. Teaching by this time to me has become something more than just an income opportunity… I have started appreciating teaching as both a profession and a craft.
First let us define what craft is. Merriam-Webster.com defines craft as “a job or activity that requires special skill”. With this definition in mind we can say that teaching becomes a craft only if it is DONE WITH SKILL. A skillful teacher is someone who can make use of his abilities better than most. Example, a skillful teacher can communicate better, can think better, can establish relationships with students better, and can even perform tasks better. Therefore a skillful teacher do things that ordinary teachers can’t do and as a result are more effective at teaching. Graham et al mentioned in an article that there are 7 Principles of effective teaching and these are:
1. Good Practice encourages student-faculty contact.
2. Good Practice encourages cooperation among students.
3. Good Practice encourages active learning.
4. Good Practice gives prompt feedback.
5. Good Practice emphasizes time on task.
6. Good Practice communicates high expectations.
7. Good Practice respects diverse talents and ways of learning. (Graham et al, 2001)
During my initial venture into teaching, I never came across these principles. But now that I am aware of them I can say that I have always followed them in my career, in my own way. And I have come to learn about these principles not from books or the internet, but from student evaluations since the University I was teaching in was very keen on evaluating their teaching staff and rightfully so. And so, by carefully dissecting each student comment, I can say that I was able to improve as a teacher, at least better than what I was in the beginning. Looking at the principles stated by Graham et al, I believe that it can be compressed into two main points, which are Communication and Respect. Because skillful communication begets rapport, effective learning and cooperation while respect begets discipline and motivation, which may result to better time management and better expectations.
However, let us not forget that skill alone is not enough. Skill must be supported with knowledge or training so that expertise can develop. For a Skillful Teacher without knowledge is just like a diamond in the rough. But all teachers have studied to become teachers and some even study further to acquire more knowledge. Because of this acquisition of knowledge through studies and training, teaching is considered as a profession. Just knowing how to teach alone though is again not enough to make an expert out of a teacher. What then is still missing in my belief? It is a trait which is very important in the acquisition of insight into the minds of students or people in general. This trait is as important as Skill, Subject Knowledge and Teaching Knowledge. This trait is called EMPATHY. The ability to put one’s self in the position of another person to gain a stronger understanding of that person’s difficulties and strengths.
However EMPATHY is not developed through training because it is NOT A SKILL. Neither can it be learned for it is NOT KNOWLEDGE. Empathy can however be acquired through IMMERSION, through constant exposure. But of course, immersion without genuine interest and sensitivity will still mean nothing. To gain Empathy, a teacher will have to be exposed to a vast number of students from different walks of life and cultural diversities and while in this process of exposure, make use of HIS HEART TO LEARN and not only his mind.
So I would like to redefine Shulman’s Framework to include EMPATHY as a separate knowledge since it is neither a Skill, an Information, nor is it teaching knowledge, but still an essential differentiating factor between an Expert and a Novice teacher. Actually I would like to extend the categorization of teachers into NOVICE, EXPERIENCED, EXPERT and the highest level which I shall call the ENLIGHTENED teacher. A level that needs time to master. A level that requires HEART to become one.
It is said that teaching is a lifelong learning and I couldn’t agree more. Most teachers however stop at learning WHAT TO TEACH and learning HOW TO TEACH. I believe EXPERTISE stops here. But if one desires to go beyond EXPERTISE one must embark on an even longer and more tedious learning process. Because I strongly believe that the highest form of learning and probably the most important of all learning, is learning WHO TO TEACH and this learning I believe requires a very strong passion even an obsession for the acquisition of knowledge since this learning consumes the most time and also demands emotional commitment from the teacher. And only teachers who have been in the practice for decades can gain access to this knowledge. This is the only knowledge that cannot be learned in school for this knowledge can only be gained through encounter with the various idiosyncrasies of learners and the more the encounter the deeper this learning becomes. But the fruit of this learning process which I have identified earlier on as EMPATHY, is worth the time spent learning, for it will ENLIGHTEN a teacher in more ways than CONTENT AND PEDAGOGICAL knowledge can give. To better understand the difference of an enlightened teacher and an expert teacher we have to look at the ENLIGHTENED TEACHER as an Expert teacher with a HEART.
Charles Graham, Kursat Cagiltay, Byung-Ro Lim, Joni Craner, and Thomas M. Duffy “Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses” The Technology Source, March/April 2001. Retrieved March 31, 2014 from http://www.technologysource.org/article/274/?utm_content=buffere64be&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer