Monday, February 12, 2007

Does "teaching" have such a bad connotation?

Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevant brought attention to this April 2006 guest posting by Mike Wesch (who just made the incredible Web 2.0 you tube video...see earlier post in this blog). In his guest post on Savage Minds, Mike describes his World Simulation activity. He calls this activity an example of anti-teaching.

"Teaching," he says, "is about providing good information. Anti-teaching is about inspiring good questions."

Reading on in this post, it sounds like a terrific example of students learning and understanding cultures and how they differ and how they thrive (or not) in a globalized world. The activity in fact, seems like a great one and comments by actual students seem to confirm this.

I am struck, however, by his use of terms. Purposely, he refers to this successful activity as an example of anti-teaching. He continues to say that he finds himself anti-teaching more and more in his efforts to have students really learn. Has our opinion of teaching truly come to this? Have we lost all faith in the idea that teachers actually do teach for understanding and that the very questioning that Mike values is in fact the very same questioning that many teachers value? And they call that teaching.

Now I recognize that perhaps it is Mike's intent to inspire us (like Apple) to Think Differently. His very use of this technology may anger some or at least make teachers defensive. But then, reading the comments, I found no such anger. No such indignation. No one saying, "Wait a minute, I do that stuff all the time and I'm a teacher." Perhaps it's Mike's disclaimer that appeases people by saying classrooms need to have both teaching and anti-teaching. Or perhaps the World Simulation was just such a good activity that teachers were able to look past any slights and recognize a chance at a good lesson plan when they saw one.

Or maybe I am just too sensitive.

Recently there have been discussions in other blogs about teacher movies and whether they inspire people to become teachers, or paint the picture of teaching to be too intense and too life changing to be done by any mere mortal, I guess I am sensitive to how we as educators refer to ourselves and our colleagues. Maybe we don't all do it perfectly or even well. But when we do, shouldn't we be calling that "teaching". Doesn't it hurt our own cause to refer to best cases of students truly understanding as the exact opposite of teaching?

I love education. And I really love to see understanding happen around me. If, through something a teacher did/planned/encouraged, students start asking deep questions and demonstrate understanding, then I say we call that TEACHING. Because that's why I think a lot of us got into this gig in the first place.


Chris Lehmann said...

I'm with you... let's revalue the terms we have, but let's also make sure that we don't demean the amazing work being done by teachers all over the country. There are -- and have been -- teachers asking incredible questions with their students for ages. Every one of them that I know takes incredible pride in the word "teacher." Let's not ask them to give that up.

Scott McLeod said...

Dennis, Mike probably could have come up with a less-antagonistic term. That said, I think his belief that we should be fostering environments where our students ask more questions has great pedagogical value.

For example, stroll on over to

In the past I would have dictated the content of this course much more than I am this semester. By opening it up to my adult students' questions, the potential learning in this class is much, much greater than what I have devised in the past. As a postsecondary teacher, I need to do much more of this sort of thing, and I believe what Mike is trying to say is that other teachers do too.

Rick and Becky DuFour note that too often teachers "teach" the material and then move on to the next topic because of curriculum coverage pressures, regardless of whether or not their students have actually learned and/or retained the material in any meaningful way. I think this is the kind of "teaching" against which Mike frames his use of the term "anti-teaching." In that respect, I think he's probably right.

A Mercer said...

Saw your comment on Scott's site.

I hear what you're saying about the term "anti"-teaching. It reminded me of the "un"teaching, but seems very different.

I guess it's the whole question of how much structure do you put in your teaching? When is a lesson too structured? When is a lesson not structured enough. I work with elementary ELLs and you have to structure and scaffold, but you also need to give room for them to express themselves. I guess that's why we need to keep looking at what we're doing. I think you right, that's good teaching, not "anti"-teaching.