Sometimes there is an aura and mystic about great teachers. Other teachers wonder about their secrets and would like to very much to be initiated into their secret master teacher circle. But there is nothing mystical or magical about great teachers, or anything esoteric that other teachers can’t tap into and embody themselves if they have the motivation and insight to turn their own minds away from our stereotypical and historic ideas about what a good teacher is like. We still live in an age where most people believe a good teacher has vast amounts of subject knowledge, can transfer this into children’s minds through saying it enough, and can keep children quiet and compliant.
Yet in reality this has never been the case, not for the likes of Dickens, nor for any of us who still remember those fabulous teachers from our own schooling who inspired us to learn. The mystery of great teaching is as simple as this: you as the teacher must think like your pupils. You must engage with them, understand what it feels like to be them and tune into them as they are there before you, in their own little worlds.
It is the very best teachers who get right inside their children’s heads and imagine what it is like ‘begin taught by me.’ Poor teachers are distant from their learners in many ways, but most of all in seeing themselves as learners too. It is also people who do not understand teaching at all who would ridicule this idea as weak, when it is so deep and so pertinent to solid, effective learning in schools.
If you can think like your pupils, you will know when learning is taking place, when there are misconceptions that need addressing and when meaning is made and new learning achieved.
Likewise, the most effective pupils increasingly think like their teachers. They become so in tune with their teachers they know why they ask what we ask of them and how it will help them to learn. Their teacher has taught them how learning takes place. Their teacher has made them experts about learning.
There is a magic moment in teaching when the learner is so in tune, so with their teacher, that they could take their place. They could stand before the class and ask the right questions, instruct expertly and take everyone with them.
A great teacher teaches as if they were learning it all themselves all over again and as if there is a small part of themselves right there learning with their pupils.