Anyone Can Teach

Becca Demosthenes

Becca was born and raised in the Midwest, the ope is strong with this one. She studied English literature and linguistics in grad school; she taught for ten years until she gave it all up to become the ever tired servant to a tiny tyrant. Most of Becca's writing these days consists of sharing her thoughts and Bible studies on her blog as well as very random content on Twitter under @LadyDemosthenes. Given enough sleep and time Becca hopes to put together a children's book about Knowles VanderBeak, her son's stuffed owl.

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16 Responses

  1. Damon
    Ignored
    says:

    I live this every week. I’m always helping lower belts on the mat. Teaching them new skills or reminding them of something they had forgotten or, more importantly, when to use a particular move.

    The teachers unions don’t want parents realizing that they are capable of teaching their own kids. If they did, they’d have more parents getting involved in public schools or removing their kids. That’d cut off the gravy train.Report

  2. Oscar Gordon
    Ignored
    says:

    Overall, I agree with this post. Especially given how much I’ve taught myself over the years.

    I have, however, 2 comments.

    1) How a person engages with material that they are trying to learn affects how well they learn it. IMHO, a good teacher helps students find interesting ways to engage with the material. A bad teacher can make the material so un-engaging as to strip away that intrinsic motivation for the student. So while anyone can teach another person, not everyone can foster that motivation*.

    2) Yes, experts can be wrong, and not every expert needs a degree (nor does a degree necessarily make one an expert). But as someone who worries about the death of expertise, can we at least agree that an education or deep experience gives one the benefit of being an expert and thus the bar for discounting them should be higher than your average Joe?

    Sure, Em or Burt might not be an expert on the law, but they both have that shiny JD and bar membership, so when they talk about the law, we should pay heed, unless they do something egregious enough to damage that credibility.

    *Related to my second point – a stack on education degrees doesn’t mean that a given teacher is good at fostering an intrinsic motivation in students. There is a difference between knowledge and talent, and expertise grants knowledge, not necessarily talent.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Oscar Gordon
      Ignored
      says:

      I have been a successful applied mathematician, and have successfully taught calculus and some odds and ends at the college level. Teaching math concepts to the littles is a whole ‘nother thing: there’s a reason why math education is its own discipline. I wouldn’t trust anyone’s kids to me short of the levels where I’ve previously taught.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        Agreed, math can’t be taught to the littles on talent alone, you have to have some specialized knowledge if you want to be effective.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon
          Ignored
          says:

          Possessing knowledge and communicating knowledge are two distinct skills.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy
            Ignored
            says:

            We need an up-vote or something. Also, communicating knowledge at an expert level, or on a level for those whose goal is to become expert, is quite different than communicating for beginners who have no intent of ever becoming expert.

            This is a contentious topic. When I was getting my MA in public policy, I was excused from the numerical methods class (based on being at least as qualified to teach it as the professor who did). I complained bitterly to the department that they were teaching people enough to be dangerous, without even telling them that they were dangerous because they weren’t learning critical pieces.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              I’m a better math person than literacy but a better literacy teacher than math teacher because of how I understand it and communicate it.

              My sons are math-y too. Me trying to help them learn “new math” is a disaster. It makes no sense to any of us.Report

            • Brandon Berg in reply to Michael Cain
              Ignored
              says:

              I complained bitterly to the department that they were teaching people enough to be dangerous, without even telling them that they were dangerous because they weren’t learning critical pieces.

              Everything that’s wrong with social science in one sentence.

              Well, that and the fact that ideological uniformity leads to research being subjected to wildly asymmetric levels of scrutiny depending on whether it supports or weakens the narrative. But with sufficient rigor and respect for the difficulty of doing causal inference correctly, that wouldn’t be nearly as big a problem.Report

          • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy
            Ignored
            says:

            My point was that communicating knowledge is a skill that is heavily affected by talent. Or, if you prefer, there is an element of art to communicating knowledge.

            That said, when it comes to young kids and math, talent alone is probably not enough, you have to have posses that knowledge too.Report

            • Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon
              Ignored
              says:

              Oh yes, sorry, I was agreeing with you.

              Lots of folks know lots of math but can’t make that available to others.

              Lots of folks are great communicators but maybe don’t have the subject matter knowledge. For real little ones, this is usually okay because they know “enough” (shape names, numbers, counting). But it quickly accelerates.

              My sons look at 6+7 and know it’s 13. And they can explain a couple ways to get there. But then the book wants us to practice “Near Doubles”… which just doesn’t compute for any of us. It’s a great strategy for lots of kids but none of the three of us so we just stumble through it. I do talk to them about the importance of A) having multiple strategies and B) knowing their audience: if the teacher wants to see it a certain way, its incumbent upon them to understand that way at least enough to show it (even if they may use alternate strategies behind the scenes or to check their work).Report

  3. Kristin Devine
    Ignored
    says:

    Great piece! Thanks for sharing it with us.Report

  4. Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    Thanks for writing! I’m a teacher and agree with the thrust of this post. What I want to contribute may feel like agreement or disagreement so I’m curious to hear your take.

    I agree that you can’t really force anyone to learn something but I do think we can be highly influential on if they learn. The environment we create in classrooms, the opportunities we create for learning, the way we present knowledge, the strategies we offer to develop skills… all of this can go a long way towards if and how much someone learns.

    Maybe this is more true for the young (preschool) kids I teacher (it sounds like you teach middle or high school).Report

  5. Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    One of my favorite little stories about teaching involved a middle-aged guy who decided to start playing World of Warcraft. He casually mentioned that he was new when he was still struggling as a low-level schlub and another player took him under his wing and explained the game to him, showing him the subtle nuances of how to play.

    After a couple of sessions, they switched to voice and the player was, like, 12. “Squeakers” is the term for them, I think.

    This kid was a master at explaining the dynamics and flow of the game, how to use the character, how to team up with others, so on and so forth.

    The guy finished the essay explaining how the kid would make a great team lead someday.Report

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