I’d like to get good at something. What can I get good at?
I’d like to get good at teaching.
But it’s totally normal desire to want to get good at something that you can share with other adults. Some call this ambition, and that’s a fine name. You could also call it a desire to participate in an intellectual community. (It’s probably best not to over-analyze this desire, right?)
Maybe I should become an expert about teaching. I’d ask questions about teaching like “what’s the best way to teach math?” and then I’d go around with my answers: “this is the best way to teach math.” There are people who do this. People sometimes even pay these people to do this.
There are problems, for me, with the “tell people how to teach math” plan. Mainly, to do this in an intellectually honest way would require me to see many more math classrooms than I currently do. How can you tell people how to teach math if you only have your own experience to go from? How can you know that your ideas aren’t just your ideas?
Researchers and PD people tell people how to teach, but if they’re any good they’re only doing that on the basis of many, many individual observations. Recommendations on the basis of one case? That’s no good.
I could leave the classroom and start looking around at other classrooms, of course, but I don’t want to. So that’s fine, and maybe the cost of that is that you don’t get to make generalizations about teaching. I’m fine with that.
So, what’s left? If others are better-positioned to tell people how to teach math, what can teachers hope to contribute?
It seems to me that what’s left for me is the art of learning about teaching. Asking particularly good questions about teaching in particularly good ways. Understanding, in a particularly good way, what the experts are saying and how to use that. There is a kind of expertise in being a non-expert about teaching, and it seems to me that this is a knowledge that I could strive for. Not knowledge about teaching, but knowledge about learning about teaching.
Maybe, though, the premise of this post is wrong? Maybe it makes sense to try to generalize about teaching from the position of a teacher? Maybe generalizing from the position of a researcher and generalizing from that of a teacher are complementary perspectives?
I really don’t know.