I was hugely influenced during the writing of ‘The Thinking Teacher‘ by a talk by designer Brett Victor. Innovation is an over used word in the world Victor inhabits, but he is someone who can legitimately claim to have spent a career working on innovative projects.
His talk ‘inventing on principle’ made me think deeply about the difference between having a passion and following a principle, one of the distinctions I explored in the book that may at first appear subtle, but on examination is quite profound. It’s easy (and immediately gratifying) to have a passion, a principle requires a dedicated examination and creates an impetus to not just keep doing what you enjoy, but to try to make something meaningful of what you do.
I found such resonance in his ideas for teaching, but I hadn’t realised he had written explicitly about teaching until this evening I discovered an article of his from 2011 which I think presents another compelling challenge for those of us who dedicate our time solely to education.
“Some teachers teach from life.
My piano teacher played the piano. Like, all the time. He had to; it’s not easy to make a living as a musician. Between tours, his band played restaurants, bars, weddings, anywhere they could get a gig. […] He chose this life because he loved music, and when he taught music, he was teaching what he did. In that way, his teaching was honest.
I might believe there’s a history teacher who spends her evenings reading contemporary accounts of the civil war, or a writing teacher who submits short fiction to the local literary journal.
But how many high school calculus teachers spend their evenings doing calculus? (What would that even mean?) Can you imagine a geometry teacher spending his evenings writing faux-formal proofs with modus ponens? Do algebra teachers even use algebra? Do they depend on it?
Can you trust a teacher who doesn’t use what he teaches? Who has never used what he teaches?
Can you trust a teacher whose only connection to a subject is teaching it?”
A real challenge for many of us, whatever it is we teach and share. I’m currently working on a variety of projects looking at impact and research in education, but some weeks it can feel like I spend more time sharing what I am doing than actually doing it, than living the thing that gives me the legitimacy to talk about it.
Luckily I have weeks like this one where I am spending most of the time figuring out the methodological challenges of these ideas, or interviewing, data collecting and analysing to construct real data and insights into impact on learners and teachers. These weeks of my actual practice at the moment seem to balance out those where I am purely sharing and speaking about the practice.
Do you live what you teach? Do you have the legitimacy to be sharing and passing on what it is you talk about? … Does it matter? Is it disingenuous to teach without doing as Victor says, or is it OK to be a professional in the abstract? Some real food for thought.
Photo: CC BY NC Oliver Quinlan