The uncertainty of learning

What is the hardest thing about teaching?

I am sure some will tell you it is the behaviour management. Others will talk about the workload, the sense that there is always more to do. Some might discuss marking. The internet just told me it is connecting with students. Or dealing with angry parents. Don’t forget the way education is used by political parties to score points. The constant change. Some might discuss the marking…

The uncertainty of learning

Me? I think the hardest thing about teaching is the invisibility of learning. We cannot see it. We cannot touch it. We cannot smell it. Learning is invisible. All we can do is create proxies to check if learning has happened. These proxies are always flawed. As teachers we are left in a world of uncertainty. Setting a test might show if it a piece of information can be remembered. This isn’t showing you the learning though, just if it can be retrieved at that point. Not being able to see how the information is being encoded inside the head of each young person leaves us always at a disadvantage. I think this is the hardest part of my job. Have I explained it properly? Have they understood the point I made? Has this connected with what I taught last week, last month, last year? Have they learnt it? Whenever I test the learning, all I am really doing is creating a proxy for that learning. I am testing the application of knowledge, the ability to recall knowledge, the recognition of key terms. What I never truly discover is what the learning looks like, what is happening inside all of those brains.

So what?

I do not have a definitive answer to this issue. I do not have a silver bullet. I don’t even have a pewter bullet! All I can do is continue to create the proxies for learning, to refine them, to give myself a clearer picture of when learning has seemingly been more or less effective. Actually, that is not all I can do. I can also read the best that has been written. I can look to those who have come before. This is what I can do. This is what my students’ deserve. This is what I deserve. This is the most challenging part of teaching but challenge is not bad. Challenge is rewarding, challenge is exciting, challenge is worthwhile.

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