Everyone can teach?

While reading and discussing the difference between experts in content and being able to successfully deliver content to students, I was able to relate to my informal professional career.  Mathematics was always a concept that I expressed passion and interest. I excelled past my peers quickly; consequently, I became their tutor when they were struggling. That job continues today with a friend that is taking college mathematics. As a teacher, it is not enough to know what you are teaching; it is also just as important to know how to teach that subject matter. This requires you to be an expert in contents as well as pedagogical skills. As a Mathematics Education major, not only did I take many upper lever math courses, but I also took courses in education to learn how to effectively teach mathematics.

Before leaving for Ireland, my friend asked me what she could do to help herself while I was gone. She could not understand why she understood me and not her professor. I explained that her professor was not taught how to teach. Mathematics professors are many times experts in the field of mathematics which does not guarantee that they are capable of helping others to learn it.  When professors are asked a question, many times they quickly complete the problem without explanation. Simply completing a problem does not give students the understanding they need to be able to do it on their own. I explained to her that her professor is an expert in math and I have no doubt he would be able to effectively complete any mathematical problem given to him, but that does not mean he is able to relate these ideas to those who are not experts.  As the writers of How People Learn expressed, “Experts have not only acquired knowledge, but are also good at retrieving the knowledge that is relevant to a particular task.” (2000, p. 43) Having no pedagogical skills, these experts are unable to transfer the content to make it accessible to students. (Koehler & Mishra, 2009, p. 15) According to the authors of “How People Learn,” experts do not possess knowledge on “typical difficulties that students encounter as they attempt to learn about a set of topics; typical paths students must traverse in order to achieve understanding, and sets of potential strategies for helping students overcome the difficulties that they encounter” (2000, p. 45).

So what does it take to be an effective teacher?  Is it true that everyone can teach effectively? In my opinion, the answer to the second question is no. As stated in “Too Cool for School? No Way!” by the authors, “Teachers have specialized knowledge that sets them apart from other professions.”  (Koehler & Mishra, 2009, p. 15) The key to being effective is to connect this specialized knowledge with content knowledge. Pedagogical content knowledge is essential.  I agree that it is easy to get in from of a classroom, read out of a book, and give tests. “In the absence of pedagogical content knowledge, teachers often rely on textbook publishers for decisions about how to best organize subjects for students” (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan, & Pellegrino, 2000, p.45) .Teaching requires a lot of research, effort, and revising in order to be successful and remembered in the classroom. Think back you, you remember who was your favorite teacher and who you dreaded? We have all had effective teachers, and we have all had teachers that were not as effective. Not every teacher has the qualities to be a terrific teacher. Knowledge about content and pedagogy combined with the love to teach creates amazing teachers. So many people I have meet so far in the MAET program can list the ups and down of teaching, but still choose to teach because it is their passion. An effective teacher needs to be able to think outside the box and also force their students to do the same. Teachers need to be creative and adaptive in their lessons. Experts are only able to deliver the facts, they are unable to adapt to the needs of their students.

Bransford, J., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.), How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school (pp. 1-78). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309070368

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). Too cool for school? No way! Learning and leading with technology. Retrieved from http://punya.educ.msu.edu/publications/mishra-koehler-l&l-2009.pdf

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