In which I am still a bad student (pt. 2 of 3)

Ukulele Chord Chart page1 If you haven’t read yesterday’s post yet, you probably ought to; this is part 2 of at least 2 and it may turn out to be three. We’ll see how I feel when I’m done writing it.

We’ve established two things about my ukulele classes: first, that I am a poor student, and second, that Dale is, at least for me, a poor teacher. Current “reformer” theory in teacher training states that so long as we get people who are trained in subject matter and good at said subject matter, it’s not actually very necessary to actually have any training in teaching. Teaching’s just something you can pick up– after all, anybody who knows a lot about something should be able to pass that knowledge on, right?

Well… obviously not. There is a hell of a lot more to my job than mere subject matter. Now, I’m both smart and arrogant, so I’m not going to pretend that the wealth of knowledge that I bring into my classroom doesn’t help– but it simply is not sufficient to make me a good teacher. Dale’s a perfect example here; someone with an immense amount of practical and technical and theoretical knowledge of his field who is, nonetheless, entirely incapable of passing that knowledge on to someone who lacks it. This is what we lose when we, as Indiana does, start suggesting that all you need to be a math teacher is to major in math, or that a competent engineer ought to be able to teach science. It’s truthy: it sounds right, but it’s bullshit. Teaching doesn’t work that way.

Conversely, you get people with comparatively little subject knowledge who are nonetheless great teachers provided that they’re in the right position. I couldn’t teach kindergarten or nursery school to save my life; does anyone really feel that you need to be an especially book-smart person to do either of those jobs successfully? Hell no. You need a firm knowledge of child development, a hell of a lot of patience, and more compassion and empathy than any two normal people should have. Many of the band and orchestra teachers I’ve met haven’t necessarily struck me as musical prodigies but they don’t need to be to make kids love music. They need to be able to teach.

In my career I’ve taught computer classes to preschoolers through eighth graders, language arts and social studies to seventh graders, math, science and social studies to sixth graders, and now I’m about to start teaching math to seventh and eighth graders. I did not take a single math or computer class in college. And I am better at my job than you are at yours. (Also more of an asshole, but that’s neither here nor there.) I’m not a good computer teacher or a good math teacher because I have exceptional skills in either area. I’m good at communicating my knowledge. That’s the important part. And that’s what we need to focus our teacher training efforts on– not on acquiring knowledge, but at developing the skill to pass that knowledge on. It ain’t the same thing.

And, for a rough segue into evaluation: let’s pretend that Dale isn’t just teaching uke classes on the side at a little community music center. Let’s assume he’s trying to make a career of this. Does he, regardless of whether I actually think he’s skilled at teaching, deserve to be evaluated by how well I play the ukulele after I’m done with his class? I’ve already been clear, I hope, on both my own initial lack of skill and– importantly– the fact that I really haven’t done much of anything to make myself better in between our sessions. Is me being bad his fault? Is my lack of trying, my lack of practice, my fuckin’ ridiculous schedule what with my jobs and my two-year-old and (let’s own it) my laziness toward improving at his craft Dale’s fault?

Should I count toward his evaluations, if they give me a uke test at the end of his class and I fail it? How much? A little? A lot?

Tomorrow (yeah, this is going three, since I still haven’t gotten around to talking about Tony Bennett yet) we discuss grading. And cheating. It’ll be fun! Assuming this damn thing uploads and doesn’t delete itself.

(Make with clicky for part three.)

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

2 thoughts on “In which I am still a bad student (pt. 2 of 3)

  1. […] In which I am still a bad student (pt. 2 of 3):  August 2, 2013, 286 hits.  This one’s interesting, and I had to think hard about whether to include it– because  technically I wrote it in 2013, but it didn’t catch on until 2014.  This is also the sole teacher post on the list, and is part of a three-part series on determining teacher quality.  It’s one of my more thinky pieces. […]


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