Do Teachers Teach or Do Students Learn?

I suggested to my fellow faculty at the for-profit college to read the book “Teaching as Leadership” by Steve Farr. Although this book is based on the experiences of K-12 educators under the Teach For America program, the same principles follow teaching in a higher education setting, especially for colleges like ours, which cater to lower-income populations: people who desperately need updated or entry-level occupational skills to be competitive in the labor market.

The book addresses the paradigm of the last four decades, which characterizes the problems that stand in the way of student achievement as socio-economic and familial. Quite the opposite, the author states. Teacher/Leaders hold the keys to raising student achievement, by setting high bars and planning for success. While this is true, drawing pure water from the well of human potential is a two-way rope with a bucket attached. Students must show up with a desire to learn. All of the social conformity and urging in the world is hollow without a personal ambition, outside of the classroom and apart from the teacher. That said, one of the teacher’s jobs is to stand as a mirror to reflect student ambition, to ask the question, point blank. Only the student needs the answer, no other.

In that sense, the teacher does teach, and the student does learn. A wandering human in life, without a teacher, can, and does, learn a great deal – even in a methodical fashion. But this is the exception. Guidance and context are extremely important in forming a self-view within a larger world-view. Even those who travel widely – who used to be called worldly – arguably aren’t as advantaged as those exposed to a teacher who can carpet ride the classroom far distances.

So, teachers, you are herewith called on the carpet. To students, I say stay in the classroom. Learn from the teacher, but if the teacher isn’t calling you on the carpet too, raise your hand. Say something. It’s simple, yes, but not easy.

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