I’m currently wrestling with the question of how pre-service teachers learn to teach. I’m wanting to understand better the part research plays in this learning. Do new ideas come through what is read (or heard)? Does a teacher have to experience a gap – usually distressing – before she is able to reach out and take in what research (or teacher education) has to offer? Is some of our students’ resistance to reading to do with their not having yet had the experience that makes reading urgent? (And do we press on with ‘required reading lists’ at university, even when we know they’re not being used effectively, only because we know it will be too late if the reading is left until after a pre-service has joined the too-busy world of fulltime teaching?)
For the past weeks I’ve been slowly reading Donald Schon’s Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a New Design for Teaching and Learning in the Professions. Schon tells the story of Carl Rogers (an early educational hero of mine) giving a talk to teachers at Harvard University in 1952. This is what Rogers told his audience:
a. My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.
b. It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior. That sounds so ridiculous that I can’t help but question it at the same time I present it.
c. I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior. Quite possibly this is simply a personal idiosyncrasy.
d. I have come to feel that only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.
e. Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another. As soon as an individual tries to communicate such experience directly, often with a quite natural enthusiasm, it becomes teaching, and its results are inconsequential. It was some relief recently to discover that Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, has found this, too, in his own experience, and stated it very clearly a century ago. It made it seem less absurd.
f. As a consequence of the above, I realize that I have lost interest in being a teacher.
g. When I try to teach, as I do sometimes, I am appalled by the results, which seem a little more than inconsequential, because sometimes the teaching appears to succeed. When this happens, I find that the results are damaging. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience and to stifle significant learning. Hence I have come to feel that the outcomes of teaching are either unimportant or hurtful.
h. When I look back at the results of my past teaching, the real results seem the same-either damage was done, or nothing significant occurred. This is frankly troubling.
i. As a consequence, I realize that I am only interested in being a learner, preferably learning things that matter, that have some significant influence on my own behavior.
j. I find it very rewarding to learn, in groups, in relationship with one person as in therapy, or by myself.
k. I find that one of the best, but most difficult, ways for me to learn is to drop my own defensiveness, at least temporarily, and to try to understand the way in which this experience seems and feels to the other person.
1. I find that another way of learning for me is to state my own uncertainties, to try to clarify my puzzlement, and thus get closer to the meaning that my experience actually seems to have.
m. The whole train of experiencing, and the meanings that I have thus far discovered in it, seem to have launched me on a process which is both fascinating and at times a little frightening. It seems to mean letting my experience carry me on, in a direction which appears to be forward, toward that I can but dimly define, as I try to understand at least the current meaning of that experience. The sensation is that of floating with a complex stream of experience, with the fascinating possibility of trying to comprehend its ever-changing reality [Rogers, 1969, p. 277].
I respond to these words, as I’ve always responded to Rogers’ writing, on many different levels.
They help to make sense of students’ resistance to our teaching and our reading lists: only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.
They help to make sense of the importance of listening: to try to understand the way in which this experience seems and feels to the other person.
They help re-inforce my yearning for more face-to-face time with my students, more time sequestered away from a too-busy outer world: I find it very rewarding to learn, in groups, in relationship with one person as in therapy, or by myself.
They make sense of this my decision to share this blog with my students as I try to state my own uncertainties, to try to clarify my puzzlement, and thus get closer to the meaning that my experience actually seems to have.
They help make sense of our work at UC to have the students’ experience at the centre of their academic study, drawing on course material (in all its forms) to help them make sense of what they’ve believed (Assignment 1), what they’ve observed (Assignment 2) and what they’ve tried on prac (Assignment 3).
Unlike Rogers, I haven’t lost interest in being a teacher. (Nor do I believe that he ever did.) Rogers helps me think more clearly about the kind of teacher I want to be. I’m 65, have been teaching for 40 years, but being a teacher – in the Rogerian sense – keeps me looking to the future. It seems to mean letting my experience carry me on, in a direction which appears to be forward, toward that [which] I can but dimly define, as I try to understand at least the current meaning of that experience. The sensation is that of floating with a complex stream of experience, with the fascinating possibility of trying to comprehend its ever-changing reality.