May 19, 2010 by Willy Cardoso
This sinister question has frequently crossed my mind as I’m preparing Forget teaching, focus on learning (Humanism and Complexity), talk at BRAZ-TESOL Convention.
The main point in pondering over such a question is not whether teacher training courses and conferences are helpful, I have no doubt they are. My point is whether in the end everything a teacher ‘knows’, s/he knows because of classroom experience followed by reflective thinking, regardless of being taught how to do it or not.
For the last three years, I have run weekly workshops in my institute, it might not sound like a big deal if you aren’t an autonomous in-company teacher in São Paulo, but this is something the whole school is proud of. However, when I think about the outcomes in terms of teachers’ performance in the classroom, I can’t clearly see how much these workshops made them better teachers. On the other hand, the few teachers who had the interest and motivation to prepare and deliver a training session seemed to be the ones who learned the most.
Another interesting situation is that I have recently started a coaching-like program with one teacher; she’s studying and developing oral/fluency/speaking tests and the most interesting part is that I don’t teach her anything. In the beginning, I was simply a resource and someone with whom she could confirm her findings were ‘right’, if only to build her confidence. Now, I’m just someone with whom she can share thoughts about the things she finds out by herself and also to give her some problems to solve, to which I don’t have the ‘right’ answer. In the past three months she has probably learnt more than all training sessions she had attended in two years.
In sum, I think I’m less useless when I’m not tagged as ‘teacher’ or ‘trainer’, or something like that. As a learner, I feel more engaged when I have a question of my own to study, maybe find an answer, apply that somewhere and self-assess the whole thing.
Limiting these ideas to learning teaching, even though I feel it’s applicable to any type of learning, the examples above might seem like experiential learning, but I still think it’s something else. Experiential learning methods, like the one shown in diagram 1, can hardly be emulated in a trainer-trainee relationship in the way we generally see it. Firstly, because there will be someone in control and this person is usually not the one who is learning, with it comes judgment based on a hierarchy of who’s more knowledgeable, another fallacy. Secondly, and in case this cycle does happen, this type of teaching and learning would be too linear to yield the expected results. As chaotic as I can demonstrate with my limited graphic designing skills, I’d say learning how to teach looks more like diagram 2, which is unlikely to happen in a training course.
I’m not going to talk much about all the other things I’ve seen that made me question the role of a teacher trainer because I really want to know your thoughts about this question.
Do you think someone can really teach another person how to teach?