ALL TEACHING involves the transmission of knowledge, like the handing-on of the torch in the Olympic Games. Just as the flame must stay alive while the torch passes from hand to hand, so knowledge must remain kindled if anything is to be transferred from teacher to student. If the fire of knowledge is extinguished in teachers, even the best students are unlikely to reignite the torch and carry it to its ultimate destination-the achievement of understanding.
Teachers are presumed to possess knowledge, which their teaching communicates to their students. It follows that
in order to teach they must know what they teach and know how to teach it; and in order to teach effectively, they must know deeply and well. Teaching requires more than knowing how to learn, although that is important. Above all, teaching requires learning itself; and, if possible under the demanding conditions that face so many teachers, it requires mastery of a subject.
By learning we usually mean one or all of three things: either the act of gaining knowledge—“to learn something"-or the knowledge gained by virtue of that act - "that which is known"-or the process of gaining knowledge- "learning how." All three are essential to good teaching. And each kind of learning is and must be a lifelong pursuit, not something that, as is so often mistakenly believed, fills only the years before teachers enter their classrooms.
1.True teachers always seek (often they must struggle) to learn more, to remain current with what is known about their subjects, to keep those subjects fresh and exciting enough to sustain the exhausting act of teaching day in and day out, year after year-in sum, to expand their ability to teach. The need to keep learning has to do also with the nature of knowledge itself. Often thought to be static, knowledge is ever-changing and ever-growing; the known is never the same from one day to the next. Thus to possess and master knowledge, one must wrestle with it constantly, fashioning and refashioning what one knows and how to present it. Knowledge taunts us with its difficulty, its incompleteness, its ambiguity.As Aeschylus reminds us in the Agamemnon,
2.to learn is to suffer.
Yet many mistakenly believe that teachers, at least at the precollegiate levels, can get by without learning, that they can just step into the classroom after gaining the minimum amount of knowledge in order to justify their being paid while they pursue their real love - say, coaching football - from which they cannot otherwise earn a living.
1.But students know better, as the many jokes about coaches in the classroom and ill-prepared teachers attest.
2.Students usually know which of their teachers think teaching a mere job and which of them approach it as a learned calling. The most ambitious students quickly spot the teacher without command of a subject or the one who has no genuine thirst for knowledge; they mark that teacher as lacking in authority, as someone whose ignorance of a subject poses a threat to their own well-being by preventing them from learning all they might be taught. And they are right, for their wellbeing as students depends on their teachers' knowledge, and on their teachers' willingness to learn more all the time.
By saying that the true teacher must master a body of knowledge, we distinguish knowledge from information. Much confusion results from mistaking one for the other.
1.Information is to knowledge what sound is to music, the unorganized material out of which the structured result is composed. We do not ask teachers to convey information; we seek information from newspapers, the stock market ticker tape, or price tags on items in a store. Instead,
2.we ask teachers to transmit knowledge, that which is organized and formally known about a subject-facts, findings, explanations, hypotheses, and theories accepted for their proven accuracy, significance, beauty, utility, or power.
The struggle to gain and sustain this knowledge is probably the most exacting work of any teacher, and it never ends. True mastery of any subject is probably beyond our reach, but reach we must. Sustained intellectual vitality requires a self-imposed sentence to hard labor- the kind of labor, however, that liberates rather than imprisons, with all the satisfactions and rewards of liberation.
No one should think that mastery of a body of knowledge is easy. It is devilishly difficult, necessitating a degree of devotion, concentration, discipline, and effort demanded by few other pursuits.
And because knowledge is always a work in progress, it is never complete; we must run to keep up with it.
Mastering a body of knowledge well enough to convey it to others is a lonely task; it is usually a silent conversation between someone who is learning and others-authors, scientists, artists- many of whom are dead, known only through their words on the page, the symbols with which they have worked, or the art they have created. Often, too, learning must proceed with- out external incentives or rewards-no additional pay, no more promotions. Gaining knowledge is private, individual, solitary. How then is knowledge sustained? And why should it be?
For the most skilled and devoted teachers, knowledge comes through an intense love of learning and of a subject, a love whose origins may be mysterious and unknown, awakened perhaps by a chance encounter with a children's book, by a parent's praise, or by a cherished teacher's encouragement-by something special that forever marked the future teacher. Most devoted teachers were "hooked" early by some distinctive curiosity, whose magic and mystery continues to hold them; and thus teachers are always trying similarly to "hook" their own students. Knowledge, to say nothing of keenness of instruction, is also sustained by a never-ceasing aspiration to learn more, an insatiable yearning to know and to understand. So, too, knowledge is strengthened by teachers' openness to students' beguiling ability to involve them in their own learning, to pull teachers in with their own excitement and curiosity.
So teachers are and must be thinkers in their own right, not just "doers" who happen to teach and possess the skill to do so. Their minds must be continually restocked and nourished. They must become capable of gaining and using knowledge on their own, independent of others, and of leading others to do so, too. True teachers liberate the thinking of others.
What, then, does it mean to say that a teacher must possess learning?