I’m a professional writer and editor, not a teacher.  But
having spent most of my life on one side or the other of the
educational process, I have some thoughts I’d like to
share.

1.  The first is that
teaching isn’t just telling.  Teaching
is a communication process.  If the person on the other end
hasn’t heard and understood, you have failed to
communicate no matter how long you’ve talked.

That’s why the best teachers are artists--creative people
who use everything their fertile minds can think of to motivate
students to learn.  Whether the students are children or adults,
using visual aids, stories or dramatic readings and drawing on
their own experiences can enrich the learning process.

2.  The second is that
you can’t test what you havenâ
€™t taught.  
Testing is destroying education in our nation
today.  Teachers are spending all their time teaching students
to answer specific questions on specific tests, cheating them
out of the basic purpose of education--learning to think for
themselves.

Sure, there is plenty of factual subject matter we need to
know, but no one can learn it all.  And there are vast
resources, both in libraries and on the Internet, to look up
facts when you need them.  You need to learn to think when
you're young, or you may not learn to think at all.

To arbitrarily determine that a person of a particular age
should master a specific list of skills and information is almost
certain to limit them.  And to require students to pass tests
over material they
haven’t learned almost certainly leads
to a sense of failure and a hatred of, or at least indifference
toward, learning.

Many students can't read well enough to understand the test
questions in the first place.  Others lack the vocabulary to
make fine distinctions.  So much depends on the educational
level of the home a person was reared in, that depending on
tests to determine success perpetuates an underclass in much
the same way that raising taxes on the poor and cutting taxes
on the wealthy does.

3.  Third,
education trains students to think. Much of
education, far from being simple facts, has to do with how we
put those facts together.  The best education helps the student
combine what they already know with new facts and
resources to think through questions and explore the world
around them.

People are naturally curious, and the best education stimulates
that curiosity and encourages them to pursue various strains
of inquiry.  Student-directed learning will be more effective,
because we all retain much more of what we figure out for
ourselves than what we’re merely told.

4.  Finally,
effective education takes into account the
variety of ways we learn.  
Different people learn different
ways.  Some recall much of what they’ve read.  Some
recall most of what they’ve done.  Very few recall what
they’ve heard.  Probably
the best education combines all three ways.

Education is an important part of all our experiences, but the
most effective is creative, builds on what we already know,
draws on all our resources and stimulates us to want to learn
more.

The world has become so complex that we all must be
lifetime learners.  It helps to learn to enjoy it!
Billie Silvey
What Is
Teaching?
September 2006
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