Friday, 10 August 2012

Teaching Through Failure

George Bernard Shaw’s famous dictum.

There are many routes to becoming an expert – some are littered with failures whilst others emerge with surprisingly little effort. Being fascinated by a subject is certainly a great advantage since it predisposes the individual to devote concentrated time and attention to their chosen interest whilst at the same time providing the impetus to overcome any difficulties encountered (and what more lamentable student is there than the one with proven ability but not the slightest enthusiasm?)

Learning can be a struggle or equally it can seep into consciousness unimpeded. Some would call the propensity to absorb a subject or its components without difficulty a “talent” and though this might be true it rarely explains anything about what underlies talent.

As students, most teachers did well in education and whilst they may have struggled with some subjects, their area of specialism is one in which they most likely excelled. Nonetheless, this achievement may have come about through anything from significant difficulties to effortless ease. They may have failed often, occasionally or only rarely.

But who seems likely to make the better teacher – the one who failed often but eventually succeeded or the one who sailed through easily? And who might make the better practitioner?

A teacher may be brilliant in their subject, but might this brilliance not preclude them to some extent from being a great teacher? If they lack experience of common mistakes are they likely to be able to recognise the difficulties and struggles of those who frequently fail? Moreover, if they have little experience of failure themselves, are they likely to empathize with the associated feelings of confusion, helplessness or demoralisation felt by students in this situation and to know how these might best be overcome? 

If Bernard Shaw was right and those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach, perhaps this is all to the better, since those who "can", may well not be able to teach as well as those who cannot.

Or alternatively as Woody Allen once said:
“Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't teach, teach gym.”


Seán said...

and those who can't teach gym teach teachers....

J. Hamlyn said...


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