On the Function of the Teacher

I have long been reflecting on the role of the teacher within the traditional educational institution, because I have increasingly found that my beliefs about teaching and learning have come into active conflict with the role that the institution would like me to occupy and the role that my students most often expect me to occupy.  The question that arises for me most pressingly is essentially this: If, as a teacher, I subvert or reject as much of the goals, the rhetoric, the formalities, the expectations, and the mandates of institutionalized schooling as I am able, what do I actually bring to my students?

I would suggest that I really only have two things to offer my students: 1) I can offer the personal narrative of my own learning, the story of what and where and how I have learned, the story of how I have come to think and believe as I do; and 2) I can offer the network of other such narratives, written or oral, technical or personal, that I have experienced.  This means that my purposes as a teacher must also be twofold: 1) I must try to make as transparent as possible the narrative of my learning, its sources, its contexts, its growth, its development, its provisionality; and 2) I must try to make as available as possible the network of my learning, encouraging my students to engage with this network in the ways that are relevant to their own learning.

This process, despite how it may appear, most decidedly does not involve the abdication of my role as teacher, but only the elimination of the proscriptive and prescriptive aspects of schooling.  I remain, as the teacher, the one who is responsible to lead students into learning.  I abandon only the necessity of doing this within a set curriculum and of maintaining the illusion that I have mastered the subject that I am teaching.

Teaching that is primarily the imposition of a set curriculum by a supposed expert, whether driven by a government, a corporation, a school board, a university, or an individual teacher, can only ever result in schooling, never in learning.  Conversely, teaching that abandons altogether the function of the teacher, removing the experience, knowledge, learning network, and model of the teacher, will never encourage learning at all.  As a teacher, I must always be between these two poles, not teaching a subject or a curriculum, but teaching myself as a model of learning, a model that is valuable precisley because it is mine and irreplaceable, even if it must always recognize its faultiness, and frailties, and its limitations.

  1. Good thoughts. Appreciate the perspective. In a religious context it is interesting to note that usually there is an explicit commitment to a prescribed knowledge set that is, as in schooling, determined above the “teacher” as a kind of commonly endorsed curriculum–creed, doctrine, etc.

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