How Teachers learn

How Teachers Learn

Curtis Kelly

I was doing graduate work in my academic field when a certain fact stopped me cold in my tracks. I was reading about the principle sources of education in the twentieth century and the main one was not at all what I had expected. We did not use the Internet until the nineties, so it only became important at the very end. I expected the principle sources of education to be school, followed by books, followed by newspapers, with maybe parents mixed in as well. Isn’t that what you’d think?

But it was none of these. It was television. Television! And as soon as I read that, I understood. Think about how much you have learned from television about other countries, political issues, history, famous people, space, and that is just the factual knowledge side. You’ve also learned processes from cooking shows, mysteries, fashion shows, crime prevention shows, and Marie Kondo. Then, don’t forget how your values, human relations skills, and romantic moves were honed through dramas, soap operas, celeb gossips, movies, etc. My every hoped for career in my youth – being a cowboy, a doctor, or a pilot – were all inspired by popular TV shows in that time. Even now, the pile of classic John Wayne movies I’ve downloaded to my iPhone tempt me towards a career change,… partner.

So, what about how we learn as teachers? I am sure some TV dramas and documentaries on schooling have influenced us, but I think there is another source of teacher training just as great, maybe even greater: the stories we share. We tell each other stories about how certain books tumbled or triumphed, we talk about the things we did that students loved, we moan about how that “Student from Hell” gave us a bad day. Our episodes provide vision. Indeed, as E. O. Wilson wrote in American Educator (2002), “The stories we tell ourselves and others are our survival manuals.” Survival manuals for teaching a language.

I always feel we do not make enough of this brain-friendly teaching resource, for either teaching our students or teaching each other. That is why we have made this special issue, marking our second anniversary, as one full of stories. Note that we will also start a new monthly column of stories. So, if you have a good one, for goodness sake, send it to us!

Oh, and one more thing. Be sure and listen to the introductory video, The Power of a Teacher, by Adam Saenz. It might stop you in your tracks.

Curtis Kelly (EDD), the first coordinator of the JALT Mind, Brain, and Education SIG, is a Professor of English at Kansai University in Japan. He is the producer of the Think Tanks, has written over 30 books and 100 articles, and given over 400 presentations. His life mission, and what drew him to brain studies, is “to relieve the suffering of the classroom.”

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