Progressivism · Teaching and Learning

Neither teacher nor student: learning happens in the spaces in between

I don’t think you can easily identify a good teacher. Some students respond to one person in a way they would not respond to another. Good teams have a variety of teachers, Students need to experience different personalities and teaching styles. The quirky and the boring can be equally effective in balanced teams.

On the other hand there is such a thing as a bad teacher. You can spot them even though they are few and far between. They don’t listen; they don’t value their relationships with students and parents. It doesn’t work in teaching. The “space in between” matters.

That is not to say that teachers have to be liked or be the “entertainment” it means that whatever the teaching style a teacher has to create relations with with students, parents and the lived world. The relations have to be enriched by a “space in between” filled with learning materials, communication tools and collaborative opportunities.

Even knowledge, in part, resides without us. Symbols and the written word are a legacy of something that occurred before this moment; the here and now. Knowledge that we, as individuals, don’t yet know and may never know is changing the world as we are busy doing other things.

Take the cross, perched atop the numerous churches that often dominate the physical spaces of the social world. No one alive brought them into being. They mean different things to different people. Faith and history to some; fear and loathing to others and apathy to the rest. A cross does not have a singular meaning. The meaning of a cross Is derived from how people think about it but it also impacts upon how people think. Its physical presence constrains social thought.

Students don’t absorb what we teach them intact. A living testament to our teaching greatness. They understand fragments, forget much. They learn from each other, their parents and from the experienced world. That is why schools can never resolve the issues of society. Learning resides in the richness of our relations. Our knowing is reflected by those relations. You can try to teach cultural literacy but in doing so unfairness becomes implicit to the teaching process if the relations are simply not there to back up the learning. Cultural literacy does not reside in the fragmented re-contextualised knowledge of schools. What is left behind when all else is forgotten are the bridges we have built to the things that resides external to us.

Similarly it is not possible to transmit cultural capital to those who haven’t got it because cultural capital resides external to us. When we speak we do so as ourselves but our speech is interpreted by others. The accent that opens doors has no implicit linguistic features that makes it better rather it is simply recognised as being better by those who also speak it. You cannot teach cultural capital to everyone because then it would have no cultural capital.

So for me great teaching occurs in the “spaces in between” In the relations we have with our students and their relations with each other and the world around them. Great teachers construct bridges to better places by creating “spaces in between” that are rich in learning opportunities.


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