Teaching as a craft

It’s difficult to literally measure how much impact a teacher can have on students; that’s the problem with social research – where does the impact of a teacher end, and the impact of something else (such as parents, the media) begin?  I would argue, given how much time students spend at school, a teacher can potentially make an enormous impact.
I see a key role for teachers to be in preparing their students to live as functioning members of society. (A functioning member of society to me, would include, being able to maintain employment, hold strong relationships and stay out of the criminal justice system). While some onus does rest on the teacher, they do not have sole responsibility for the product of the student that emerges.  This is something that I am telling my students this year.  In a letter home to students and their parents I state, “The power in the learning belongs to you, but it is my job to structure the education so that learning can place” (my thanks to another teacher, JR, from whom I have borrowed these words).
Indeed, the world of knowledge and skills that lies in front of young people is infinite.  The teacher as expert must filter this into  tangible and appropriate classroom lessons.  In this way, the teacher has a huge amount of responsibility.  As a maths teacher, given the choice, I could potentially just focus on those skills that I know could be practically applied in an obviously useful way, ignoring the more theoretical or abstract topics (e.g. consumer maths vs. algebra).  Similarly, as a Humanities teacher, I could choose to present historical events from only one perspective, or even purposefully omit to teach certain events at all.
This is the power and the difficulty of teaching: you are able to funnel in certain information to the developing mind of the student. But in this position of awareness, it is also evident that there is so much to learn and only so many hours in the day.  Earlier this week, I sat with the Principal of my school and discussed this issue.  He drew for me the diagram below in order to emphasise ‘we will never be able to teach everything’; within the realm of knowledge that exists (or that we know exists), only a very small portion can ever be communicated in the school. Accordingly, the teacher must decide what is worthy of being taught, and in doing so must artfully employ concepts and skills that will best prepare the student for future learning and challenges in life.
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