What’s teaching?

October 9, 2012 • Ted Kolderie

Everybody talks about wanting good teaching. It would be nice if as a first step someone would define ‘teaching’.

So far as a body can tell, listening to the discussion, teaching is whole-class instruction — which has to be combined, of course, with ‘classroom management’. A good teacher, Bill Gates said several times to the Education Commission of the States in Atlanta in July, “calms the classroom”.

Endlessly it’s “classroom” . . . “classroom” . . . “classroom”.

But in the classroom are 25 or 30 students who differ, sometimes widely, in their backgrounds, interests, aptitudes, motivations and levels of attainment.

What’s a teacher supposed to do to get rapt attention from so diverse a group? Who exactly is s/he teaching? The low-attainment students? Those at the ‘high’ end? The group in the middle?

Some years back a number of us in Education Evolving spent a long afternoon with Jack Frymier, listening to him talk about that.

He presented a totally different concept of teaching and of ‘good teaching’; one that departs dramatically from the notion of whole-group instruction. You can read that, listen to him, in these notes.

I’d be much interested to hear what you think about Frymier’s concept of teaching; of the teacher’s job.

In a week or two I’ll write about a teacher in a district near Saint Paul who has done what Jack urged; has adapted the learning-activity in his (third-grade) classroom to the interests and abilities of the individual student. It’s a fascinating story, with big policy implications. I hope you’ll write me about that, too.