One of the most refreshing things about David Didau’s latest book, What if Everything You Knew about Education Was Wrong? is his determination to induce doubt in his reader’s mind. Complacent certainty is a debilitating thing for teachers.
A clear example of this kind of complacency is contained in the words, ‘I know my pupils’. It’s the killer punch to an argument, because it is not falsifiable. There is no definitive evidence that can be presented to refute this statement. One can debate endlessly over the evidence for this approach or that, only to have the whole discussion closed down with these four short words. The implication tends to be that ‘you can pontificate all you like about cognitive science; you can use any logical argument you like; but I possess knowledge which supports my approach, knowledge to which you evidently have no access, you cold-hearted intellectual, you!’
In response to this statement, I can only counter with a shocking admission. I don’t know my pupils: not that well. I don’t have marvellous insights into their psychology and motivation. I don’t have a gut feeling that this or that method is just the perfect match for them, and will lead to a moral and academic transformation.
Am I the only teacher in the world who doesn’t claim to be a mind reader? Am I the only one who is not some kind of witch doctor for the soul, offering miraculous remedies due to my mystical insight into the inner lives of my pupils?
I have five children of my own, and I don’t know them that well either. I try to teach them right from wrong, to encourage them, to explain things to them, but I don’t have a magic key which gives me direct access to their minds and souls. Could anyone explain to me how I am supposed to obtain this key?
So many other people seem to have it. They talk with great confidence about how they craft differentiation strategies for this or that pupil. When I explain that I just teach the whole class the best way I know how, they are shocked at my lack of subtle and profound insight into my pupils.
Actually, I rather like the fact that I have no magic key to souls or crystal balls that predict reactions. I rather like the mystery of the human soul. I like its ineffable freedom and unpredictability. That’s one of the reasons I love being a teacher: you never know what’s going to happen next. It must be a bit boring for these people who have everything figured out.
Of course, I can tell when my pupils don’t understand, because they get things wrong. Then I explain things again, and they have another go. But really, I have little to no idea of the mental and/or moral processes that led to the error. Because I don’t have a window into their souls. I just don’t know them that well. Do you?