Being a Good Teacher Is Being a Good Learner

Uwe and Brigitte are grade 5–6 teachers, here discussing with Li, a teacher from a nearby high school, what it means to be a professional teacher. The discussion takes place in a workshop with several researchers and about a dozen other teachers.

‘I think my teaching is very deliberate, I make conscious choices and decisions, if I choose to do something or do something in a particular way it’s because that’s what I need for my intention, for my purpose. I think it makes a big difference because I am always thinking about what I do and what I think the consequences will be,’ said Li.

‘Yes I agree there is a need to be intentional and purposeful, Brigitte responded, ‘however I think there has to be an equal concentration on flexibility and responsiveness. You have to have a structure but you also have to be very flexible.’

‘When you and I teach’, said Uwe gesturing to Brigitte, ‘there is something that frames up what we are doing, call it a plan, a purpose, some goals we want to achieve, but we have to be able to change what we are doing, modify it and be flexible. We might start a unit of work with one set of intentions but we might change these half way through the term as it becomes clear that more important opportunities are opening up,’ said Uwe.

‘But how do you know when you need to modify what you are doing?’ asked one of the researchers. ‘How do you recognise these opportunities?’

‘I think it has something to do with this picture’, offered Brigitte holding up an image of a wine connoisseur. ‘I showed this image at the last curriculum meeting to illustrate a concept … the concept of the teacher as knowledgeable professional. Early in my career there was no discussion about teaching, it was a private practice. There were theorists to draw on, theories to use as tools but you chose what to use or not use. But I really didn’t know enough to make those choices. That’s why I think teachers need to become connoisseurs, knowledgeable professionals making choices, having enough knowledge and expertise to make good decisions’.

‘Does that mean the connoisseur should know all the answers?’ asked Li. ‘Experts who know all the answers? That would be quite arrogant, teachers with nothing left to learn’.

‘It’s not about knowing everything’, said Brigitte. ‘It’s about knowing enough to make good decisions, being able to choose from a broad range of strategies, strategies that suit your kids and your situation’.

‘When you think you know everything that’s when you stop being a connoisseur’. Offered Uwe. ‘I think that being a good teacher is being a good learner.’