Practical Teacher Training

When I conduct teacher training, my goal is as simple as I can possibly make it. I want the teachers who sit through it (and stand, and move around, and gather in groups of three and four, and talk) to better understand classical education.

Beause it is classical education we are talking about, I care a great deal about the teachers’ ability to apply what they learn. But that will arise quite nicely from understanding what we are talking about.

At the end of our time together, I hope that the teachers see that all teaching is embodying an idea. I hope they will see that classical education is different from both progressive and traditional education in that it draws what is true and useful from the other forms but reaches higher because it is driven by a higher goal and sees truths the others cannot see.

I hope they will see the different understanding of truth that the traditionalist and the progressive hold and that they can see where the Christian classical vision fulfills and corrects the others.

Furthermore, they will have experienced Socratic discussions, so I hope they will appreciate and think about the communal experience of thinking they have just gone through. If they have been involved, they will be able to think at least a little better, either because they practiced doing it or because they learned a new tool to help them think.

Some teachers will perceive that the mind seeks harmony. The applications you can make to teaching when you understand this principle are endless. The first might be that it underscores the truth of Socrates’ axiom from the Republic: “Great is the power of contradiction.”

Why? Because contradiction is disharmony.

Therefore the teacher who fears the introduction of a contradiction into the classroom necessarily weakens her teaching.

Here is a contradiction: 4+2=X.

It does not. That is why you are putting the answer in the place of the X.

Stories are about resolving contradictions. Celebrate them!

Take a moment and think about a class you are teaching.

Now select an idea you want your students to understand. Keep it simple.

Now think of the opposite of that idea or of a statement that does not agree with it.

When you want your students to think about that idea (which is the only way they can understand it), present the two statements and let them have at it.

Even younger children can thrive on this sort of instruction, because the soul hates contradiction. It loves harmony. So it gets a thrill out of harmonizing apparent contradictions.

Think of the pleasure we will gain from our Lord’s explanations at the end! Now give your students some little examples of that pleasure while you teach!

So I hope teachers gain a profound appreciation for the principle of harmony and the power of contradiction to begin thought -always with the faith that the contradiction can be resolved.

In addition, we take some time learning how to teach any history or literature lesson by asking a simple question: Should X have done Y?

All the attack skills of the reader arise from that simple question, and that simple question should never be forgotten.

Once this ground is covered, I want teachers (and this includes home school parents) to see three of the most powerful teaching tools you can find and to better understand how to use them:

First, the three columns developed by the Paideia Plan: knowledge of content, understanding of ideas, and mastery of a skill.

Next, the essential mode of all instruction: the mimetic. In other words, I want teachers to see how you teach by embodying ideas so your students can contemplate them.

Third, assessment, that most dangerous of all teaching activities. It’s hard to find a better way to undercut your teaching and demoralize your student than by inappropriate assessment.

The modern school seems to have a noble intention. But I am convinced that their failure arises from erroneous theories about what and how we learn, which are rooted, in turn, in an inadequate understanding of what a human being is.

In other words, the disagreements are philosophical, ethical, theological, pedagogical, and even, sometimes, scientific.

And the differences are practical through and through.

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