In this midst of confusion, I would like to defend the role of the teacher above the one of the tutor. More precisely, it would be an “éloge” for the teacher, borrowing the very nice French term for honouring the virtue of a cause.
Although a teacher can play the role of a tutor, the reverse is not true. You will certainly not be surprised that a considerable part of teachers do… private tutoring during their free-time! On the contrary, a random tutor at trial in front of a full class of students might create some disenchantment.
A closer insight of what a teacher is, might help us restore some faith in public education. In fact, the three revolutions of educative perception that apparently divide the schooling system can also be invoked to help identifying three different perceptions of what a teacher is. With each of the three initial questions, a different aspect of what a teacher has to be, emerges.
Does the teacher know ? At first, a teacher is someone who can outspeak our pretentions of understanding with zher own knowledge and experience. It is a captain, an authoritative figure whose word is more than it appears to be in the first place. Zhe knows more deeply and broadly. Everything zhe will say will be hard to contest. As a captain knows his ship and his crew, a teacher must know zher class. Still as a captain, zhe needs to ensure the whole crew stays on board for the whole journey. Zhe takes responsibility for the outcome of the journey. Subsequently, zhe must make zherself trustworthy for zher student-crew and help to build a trustful bond among the crew itself. For the sake of the journey, zhe sometimes has to put up with difficult choices and think for the crew as a whole, even if the sailor-student personalities radically differ from a person to another. A teacher has the misfortune of a captain unable to choose zher crew before setting sail. Zhe cannot decide to put aside those trouble-making sailor-students who do not bring anything constructive to the rest of the crew. Otherwise, zhe risks dicing with mutiny. It is this authoritative and leading personality of the teacher that was most reputed in the past centuries and that is slowly fading away to clear the place for the next following trait.
Can we understand the teacher ? Secondly, a teacher becomes someone who not only knows a lot, but can also adapt zher knowledge to the one who is supposed to acquire it. It is a gardener, a caring and empathetic figure whose helping hand can mitigate any recurrent trouble. As a gardener knows zher flowers, the teacher is conscious of the different needs and learning characteristics of zher fellow pupils. Zhe adapts zher teaching method to the different kind of learners zhe interacts with. When zhe encounters an obstacle, zhe can figure out a way around to still make the stream pass. Many psychosocial books of the second half of the past century describe the distinct learning personalities with their strengths and weaknesses as well as how to resolve them. Such a description can be found in Gregory and Herndon’s book : “Differentiated Instructional Strategies for the Block Schedule, Chapter 2”(Gregory & Herndon, 2003).
Still as a gardener, a teacher creates a suitable learning environment for zher flower-students to thrive and grow. Zhe does not coerce in any way the process of learning, however encourages it only. Students, in a reassuring and stimulating environment, are prone to learn from themselves and not only listen as dull heads to the unique spot light coming from the lecturer. Studies have been made on this in (Turner & Krechevsky, 2005). Learning for a person is a natural and personal process just as growing and blossoming is, for a plant. The role of the gardener is to intervene only in the alignment of nature’s propensity and to compensate for any misfortune due to natural incautiousness. Watering a plant is only necessary when it didn’t get enough rain. It is not a default task. The perspective of the gardening teacher is the most praised and encouraged at the present time of history. Keeping up with the trend, very keen and nicely written blogs usually gravitate around that part. This one in particular insists on how teaching and learning are complementary and that their outcome depends on the environment created for such purpose. The labour is definitely not entirely in the hands of the teacher and the learners must make their part of the work in order to be able to follow up and grow.
The aspect of the teacher as a gardener – or to put in functional terms : as a supervisor – has also had some drawbacks on society. The respect for teachers has decreased since then. Many of those who never had the occasion to teach, see teaching as a secondary and an idle profession, whose passion is shallow and ill-founded. Financially speaking, teachers are often underpaid for their efforts. It is clear that tutoring has had its effect on the perception of the teacher. It is sad but real, teaching is at the present time suffering a downward spiral of negative impressions. Public institutions highly demand good teachers, professionally unsuccessful people surrender in front of the voracious competition – often called “rat race” – undergoing in the private sector and become teachers, and as a result : teachers are paid less. The last perspective of the teacher is a contentious one and jealously regarded by unhappy exploited employees.
Is there such a thing as to know ? At last, a teacher is someone who creates connections. Zhe can never be trapped into a corner and always finds or knows new ways around. It is an artist, an elusive and emancipated figure whose art tackles the philosophical mazes carefully prepared by learners. As an artist evokes strokes of passion before the senses of his contemplators, a teacher encourages zher pupils to bring up and cultivate their passion for whatever they like. Still as an artist, a teacher uses zher creativity to reach out for the interest of zher student-audience. (Good) Math teachers do not try to make us memorise or assimilate mathematic formulas; instead they try to make ourselves become interested about maths and eager to know more and look after them for ourselves. In order to do so, they might try to awaken our mathematical reasoning and make it appealing and intuitive to use for resolving problems. A successful teacher will spend less effort and time in ‘teaching’ per se than in awakening and cultivating the spirit of initiative among its pupils. In contrast with the business model of client-based relationship, teachers do not wish their students to stay numb sitting at their desk, eternally dependant on their instructions and knowledge. Their genuine wish is to never see them again. Never see them again as students, but as equal responsible raised citizens. They would love to keep in touch with any of their former pupils, as they have once taken foothold on their ship.
This elusive and distant personality of the teacher is both archaic and yet in avant-garde. It is archaic because it evokes the esoteric bond that once existed between the apprentice and the master and that has practically vanished throughout the 20th century. Yet, it is in avant-garde because as more papers will be published on whatever new learning/teaching techniques in correlation with success at school grades or in getting promoted or any type of social gratification, the harsh reality of the majority of the population will lay in a general disinterest about cognition. Engineering is too boring, maths are too boring, economics are too boring, natural sciences are too boring, legislation is too boring; younger generations are being driven off toward immediacy and its application to sources of entertainment. Then, future studies will gradually begin to talk about eagerness, interest and passion in the process of learning and try to link it to the skills of the teacher. The trend by the second half of this century will encourage teachers to captivate the pupils’ interest and enjoin them to look at knowledge with faithful passion rather than with the eyes of a short-term utilitarian.
But this doesn’t have anything to do with “how can we know we know ?” ! Well, it has. An artist knows that there is no such thing as technique and craftsmanship without works of art. Similarly, a teacher does not see knowledge as a dead solid ground basis but as a brisk living stream, varying across culture, perspective, insight, purpose and many other factors. Zhe knows that knowledge can be modelled and approached in accordance with the context in which it is formulated. Zhe tries to avoid thinking that things are the way they are, simply as a mere fact. Things are the way they are presented to be seen as such. Of course, a teacher may not know everything. But at least, zhe knows what zher students do not and how to cope with that. Zhe is not going to tell the sheer truth and facts in a row to zher students. Zhe is going to give them freedom to let their curiosity go as far as they can endure to do so. In the end, every teacher is conscious that the boundaries of knowledge are limited by those of curiosity. And eventually a teacher will mostly try to arouse the curiosity of zher students, because knowledge will follow as a natural consequence.
When you breathe, you don’t hustle and stack the air in your lungs, you simply create room for it, and wait for it to come softly replenishing your thoughts. Similarly, knowledge is meant to be seeded and grown by those who make enough room for it, by widening their mind’s openness. In the end, as Jostein Gaarder summarised it quite acutely in Sophie’s World : “All knowledge is human knowledge”…
- (Gregory & Herndon, 2003) : Gregory G. H. and Herndon L. E., Differentiated Instructional Strategies for the Block Schedule, The First Years of School, April 2003, Volume 60, Number 7
- (Turner & Krechevsky, 2005) : Turner T. and Krechevsky M., Who Are the Teachers? Who Are the Learners?, Educational Leadership, April 2005
- (Kaplan, 1998) : Kaplan L., The Teacher as a Learner, 1998
- (Knowles, 1990) : Knowles M. S. , The Adult Learner: a neglected species (4th edition) Houston: Gulf Publishing, 1990
- (Harrison & Reeve, 2002) : Harrison R. and Reeve F., Supporting Lifelong Learning: Perspectives on learning, Routledge Falmer, 2002