When a pedagogy of ‘teaching by mentioning’ rewards formulaic learners, it can be easy to ignore that teaching is contextual and situational. When I teach I am often unaware of the value of my own experiential knowledge and, due to the complexity of the teaching process, I can struggle to express my practical knowledge in a precise professional vocabulary. On many occasions my body language, my content decisions, and my relationships with students are adjusted on the run due to subconscious cues that I could not recount or account for.
To teach well, I have to be able to learn from others. Teaching is a conversation with a learner. This means accepting learners as whole people and genuinely listening to their thoughts.
I think of all the times in class where I have short-circuited an avenue of inquiry by bringing a student’s wandering curiosity back to the immediate syllabus and the requirements of the approaching high-stakes test. “That’s an interesting question, but let’s stay focused on the topic at hand” is a refrain that I am all too guilty of overusing in my own teaching. Stable programs and a culture where curriculum is locked in are not the hallmarks of good pedagogy.
Each student departs a lesson with their own personal interpretation of what was taught. The teaching and learning process is an interaction with the environment, a mutual, reciprocal interaction which is experienced differently by each developing person. In the classroom this is rarely a one on one interaction. It is a tenuously forged group learning that weaves together the different understandings of each disparate individual. Rather than being a one-way transmission of information from the teacher to the students, it is a dynamically interactive relationship. Just as students learn from teachers, in the process of teaching, teachers also learn from students. Teaching is a process of permanent inquiry, perhaps best conceived of as a reflective conversation.