Not to put too fine a point on it

What is the nature of teacher knowledge?  If you drew it as a picture, how would it look?

These were the questions that started off a lecture on my MA a couple of weeks ago.  The short answer to the first one is probably that it’s very implicit and intuitive, hard to pin down.  And to the second one, I would suggest – like spaghetti!  Lots of intertwined ‘strands’ of knowledge, experience, belief, etc., difficult to separate out from one another but somehow working pretty well holistically.  And with just a slight risk of occasionally getting a bit messy.
Photo from eltpics (@thornburyscott)
Anyway, having deliberated over these questions for a bit, we (the MA students) then worked in small groups to analyse and evaluate the standards identified by various formal education authorities for teachers’ knowledge (e.g. “the subject material”), values (e.g. “respect individual learners and diverse learning communities”) and activities (e.g. “design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study”).
Now, maybe we were just tired after having been at work for 10 or more hours already, maybe we were sick of the weeks of rain we’d been having, maybe we were too hungry to concentrate, maybe we were just generally lethargic for no good reason… but we had trouble settling to this task.  Ultimately, the answer seemed pretty obvious to us – whatever criteria you might set out in an effort to determine a ‘standard’ for teachers to follow, whatever skills you identify as essential, whatever values you think they should espouse, none of this really matters at the end of the day if they just don’t really care.
It’s not enough to “know that”.  It’s not even enough to “know how”.  You have to “care that” and “care how”.  In short, you have to actually give a shit.  And students aren’t stupid – they can tell if you don’t.
Hence, we devised our somewhat tongue-in-cheek “G.A.S.” model of what good teachers know and do.  Utter apathy — or just not giving a shit, as we preferred to term it — won’t ultimately help students, no matter what other techniques or ‘skills’ you may have mastered.  If, at the end of the day, you simply couldn’t care less, then you’re in the wrong job.
Not to end this uncharacteristically musing/non-practical post on too sour a note, all this reminds me once again of one of my favourite quotes that I’ve picked up from other passionate ELT professionals, and which I’m sure I’ve already mentioned somewhere on this blog at least once before:
“Teacher, enjoy yourself or you’ll bore us.”
(Picked up from Chaz Pugliese, not sure who he was quoting.)
P.S. This post is dedicated to “the other Laura” & Sarah! 🙂

About Laura Patsko

Teacher trainer, language learner, language teacher, linguist, researcher. Not necessarily in that order.


  1. Love it!(the other Laura)

  2. It is true that yu have to care, but it does take more than just caring!

  3. Never said it didn't! 🙂 Our point was just that knowledge, skills, techniques etc. aren't enough – they're wasted if you don't care what effects they have or what you're doing with them.

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