Years ago, in an educational conference, we were posed one question: what kind of teacher are you? Before you rush to answer “a good one” – which is exactly what I felt tempted to say at that time – you might want to take some time to think about it.
One famous teaching style is the “traditional” one. It pretty much presupposes students seated in orderly rows, taking notes and doing exercises, teacher transmitting knowledge in solo explanations, and writing things on the board. Some have called it the “chalk and talk” method.
Another very well-known style is the “entertainer”. It describes the teacher who tells stories and jokes, talks galore while students are expected to passively absorb knowledge through laughter and entertainment.
Although these two styles are often described as opposite, they share one, if not more, essential characteristic: they are teacher-centred. The focus is on the teacher, whether as the master supreme of all knowledge or as the artist shining on the centre stage. Both “styles” resemble what is described as “the explainer”, as mentioned in the book Learning Teaching, by Jim Scrivener (2005).
According to him, there are three broad categories of teaching styles:
The teacher as ‘the explainer’, who “knows the subject matter very well, but has limited knowledge of teaching methodology. This kind of teacher relies on explaining or lecturing as a way of conveying information to students” (p. 25). This style used to be (and still might be, in some places) the norm. We have all had at least a teacher like this in school, haven’t we? I had this history teacher who was incredibly knowledgeable, however, I did not learn anything from him. He’d sit at his desk and lecture for 90 minutes. No room for questions, no time for consolidation.
The teacher as ‘the involver’, who knows the subject matter, however, “is also familiar with teaching methodology; she is able to use appropriate teaching and organizational procedures and techniques to help her students learn about the subject matter […] while still retaining clear control over the class”. (p. 25). This is the teacher who has their students work in groups and pairs, who changes interaction patterns, who goes from explanation to guided and more independent practice opportunities.
The teacher as ‘the enabler’, who “is confident enough to share control with the learners, or perhaps to hand it over to them entirely. […] seeing herself as someone whose job is to create the conditions that enable the students to learn for themselves” (p. 25). This can be seen when a teacher negotiates the classroom rules with their students, for example; or when students work autonomously in class so that the teacher is almost “invisible”.
There will be moments in class in which the teacher will need to be the explainer, moments in which the teacher will need to involve their students, and moments for enabling them. I truly believe nobody is just one or another. As humans, we play a mix of different roles that make us unique.
In the end, in order to be a “good teacher”, one really needs to respect their students and themselves, have empathy and put themselves in their students’ place, be authentic; be their true self.
And remember, teaching does not equal learning.