Mythbusting common beliefs about education

When I was just getting started as a teacher, I was full of naive passion for education. I know I was passionate because I cared about every student I taught having an even better experience than I did, and I loved my teachers. I was the kid in high school who got voted teachers pet, literally! I even dedicated my senior yearbook page, not to friends or family, but to some of my favorite teachers. So when I say I was passionate about teaching, that passion was born out of having great teachers and an unwavering love of learning.

I was also naive. I know this because at 22, I thought I knew exactly how teachers should teach. Given my success as a student, my love for certain teachers, and some early positive feedback from tutoring and assistant teaching in college, I thought I had all the answers. Now I was a teacher, and I was going to do it just right. The only problem with this is that I was falling prey to the novice teacher’s primary fallacy: the belief that every student is just like you were.

Whenever I work with aspiring educators, whether they’re training to be teachers right out of university, or transferring their knowledge from a completely separate industry like tech, medicine, or law, the most common approach I’ve seen is the same naive one I had. That’s because novice educators teach the way they like to be taught. They think, as I did, that students will respond positively (engaged and learning) to their teaching style because it’s exactly what they would have responded to if they were the student. As novice educators we believe this so strongly, that confirmation bias sets in, and we reward the students who are like us and ignore or dismiss the critiques of the students who aren’t.

In the first couple years I was a teacher, I had some students who loved me as much as I loved my favorite teachers. I also had some students who just struggled to make it in my class. They learned little and liked me less. I would say I reached about 25% of my students when I was just starting out. Eventually, I noticed this and my drive to learn took over. 1 out of 4 was not good enough. I wanted to do better, and so I started doing some research. I immediately made some very interesting discoveries. Revelations like: learning styles are mostly bogus, humans learn in nearly identical ways, learning exists outside of school even more than it does inside the classroom, and one of my favorite brainbreakers: there’s no such thing as misconceptions.

These discoveries fueled years of experimentation in the classroom, they drove me to grad school to understand and conduct new research, and eventually they multiplied to become a new framework on teaching. It took almost a decade, but I started to understand what it meant to be a professional educator. Many of my naive assumptions have been debunked, replaced by more nuanced and more powerful tools and perspectives. My approach of teaching the way I liked to be taught has been replaced by an approach that reaches many more students. Now I facilitate learning using a number of well-designed, well-researched tools, and I strategically combine them in an effort to fit the student, the medium, and the subject matter. I’ve lost my naivety, but thankfully my passion burns even stronger. Informed by research, armed with a professional educator’s toolset (and mindset!)0, I reach a much larger percentage of students. I’m not at 100% yet, I don’t know if that’s even possible, but I’m a lot closer, and the work is a lot more gratifying.

So I’d like to start debunking some commonly held beliefs about education, If you’d like to help, let me know where you think I should start. If you have your own thoughts or experience as an educator or a learner, share them here, and let’s continue the conversation. And as always, here’s to smarter learning.