In a recent conversation with several teachers, I asked the question: “Does teaching exist in the absence of learning?” This is the most essential question any teacher can ask of themselves. The answer, Yes, No, or somewhere in between, sets the boundaries of a teacher’s effectiveness.
This is a question that many wrestle with as they have experienced students who were very difficult to teach or who were very resistant to learning. How can we make a student learn if they don’t want to? Perhaps the better question one can ask of themselves is: “What power do I have in motivating the most challenging student to learn?” How much power one believes they have is their level of self-efficacy. Webster tells us that self-efficacy is a person’s belief of their power or capacity to produce a desired effect; effectiveness. Fancy psychological research found self-efficacy as the foundation of human motivation and accomplishments. Unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to act or persevere in the face of difficulties.
Yep, that’s us. We are working with our colleagues to increase teacher effectiveness in the face of difficulties and motivation is certainly key. That, perhaps, is a rather large understatement! Can we motivate teachers to become more effective if they don’t believe that they can be?
I once heard a story about a swim coach who “taught” a group of children to swim; however, try as she might, one student just couldn’t learn and had to be saved by a lifeguard on the last day of class. Did that swim coach teach that child to swim? Can everyone learn to swim? Maybe there are great reasons why the child didn’t learn to swim. Perhaps he didn’t take baby swim class when he was 9 months old like other children and he is just too far behind to learn. Maybe he has a disability that doesn’t allow him to make the proper connections in his mind to control his limbs as well as other children. I don’t know, but to me it is clear that the student didn’t learn to swim.
So, if he didn’t learn to swim, was he taught to swim? Did teaching occur?
Well, to me the big question hinges on the definition of teaching. Is teaching simply providing all of the necessary information on a subject? Being a formal student for half of my lifetime has taught me at least one thing…that there are some very knowledgeable teachers/professors in this world who can’t teach worth a darn. Knowing your material doesn’t mean that you can teach it.
If you’ve read this far, you’ve likely figured out where I stand on the subject. For the most part, I believe that teaching does not exist without learning. I get it, there are some students that you just can’t reach. I will say that if you never give up and always try new strategies and tactics, at the end of the day you’ll earn my respect. I’m not quite Yoda when he said: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Trying is important.
Do you believe that all students can learn? Search deep within yourself. If you truly believe this mantra, then you must also believe that you haven’t finished teaching if a student hasn’t learned enough…yet.