Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Beware of Teachers

I've had this item on my list of topics for many months. Although it will probably offend a few people I believe that it is important. Training and education are necessary steps in many peoples' lives and sometimes unwitting, careless, senseless or cruel behaviour on the part of a teacher does more harm than all of their instruction.

As career developers we might need to be ready to hear clients when they talk about their experiences with teachers. Here are a couple of my experiences:
  • A couple of years ago I walked into the office of my boss in a university business school. He told me that he had just told some student that he (the student!) wasn't suited to university. Need I say that chances are that this advice would have been devastating to the student? And isn't it amazing what conclusions people can come to? The student was obviously a completely hopeless case.

  • This seems to happen again and again.

    My education was not a smooth flow from one institution to the next. At one point I took a night school course as part of my university entrance requirements. The teacher asked little of us as a class; consequently almost no-one said anything, me included. One evening he brightened sufficiently to ask us why we were taking his course. When my turn came I told him my intentions he said, "You don't wanna go to university." Now I wonder how he could conclude that. However, I can see that he might have deserved a place in a university business school.
And about 40-odd years ago I was pretty bad as a schoolteacher myself.

We become accustomed to being marked and graded by teachers rather than judging for ourselves. Perhaps students should be encouraged or advised to see their teachers in a somewhat different light:
  • Especially at post-secondary levels, most of the people that teach, or lecture, are experts in subjects other than teaching or one of the support occupations. Furthermore, many of these same people regard themselves primarily as researchers; they are teachers as distant seconds.
  • Remarks made by teachers might very well be by chance, or just offhand. Also, a student might be well to remember that even a full-time teacher who has spent many years in the occupation could very well be jaded and bored.
  • If teachers seem to represent an inachievable level of skill, knowledge and expertise then remember that, very often, they have been revising that same area of interest for many years. A teacher might be a gifted researcher but that does not likely mean that they have developed everything that they are passing on to you themselves. Both of you are in a long chain of learners.
  • Lots of teachers are second and third stringers, like most of us.
One of the university teachers I had told a class of us (something like), "Some people can count, some can't." Being short of confidence myself, it took me about a nanosecond to conclude that I was in the latter group. The truth is that, given patient practice—and a modicum of confidence in oneself!—anyone can learn to count in the sense intended by that teacher.

I believe that this teacher meant well. He was probably trying to comfort those of us who would have apparently insurmountable difficulty learning to count. Unfortunately, his psychological strategy was flawed. Here's the article that finally stirred me to write this post: Be careful when comforting struggling students.