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To be a teacher means to be a guide

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

Your biggest impact on your students will be through providing the guidance, support, and feedback they need to reflect on their own thinking — to assess the quality of their ideas, solutions, and writing; to determine what they still don't understand or know; and to recognize why they think or feel the things they do.

What teachers say makes up a small percentage of the learning experience

If a teacher gives a lecture and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a teacher makes an assignment and no one does it, has teaching taken place?

It's tempting to have it in your imagination that what happens in the classroom is what counts. Teachers construct arguments, present facts, and make assignments. Students listen, take notes, and do their assignments. The argument or fact is either assimilated or not, the assignment either completed or not. We assume that students learn from what teachers say. But this isn't how learning works.

The most important thing about school is not what happens in the classroom but what happens outside of class: students talking with other students about what they are learning and doing; reading books their teacher never mentioned or assigned; working on problems they find interesting even though they have nothing to do with class; learning how to learn without being taught; developing the intellectual independence that allows them to explore ideas on their own.

The rest is up to students

Students need to become skilled at finding and using a wide range of resources, and at working productively with others. They need to learn how to adopt an effective approach to a problem, and how to develop that approach into an effective plan of action, including a persuasive presentation of their ideas.

A great teacher helps students learn these skills, not by telling them what to do or how to do it, but by influencing the climate of the learning environment. Students are more likely to learn these skills when they see that their teachers know them well and expect them to put in the effort needed for success.

Teachers can model the value of effective thinking and planning by explaining why they have adopted particular strategies in their own work. Teachers who exemplify scholarly values encourage their students to consider those values in their own approach to academic work.

In some cases, teachers should offer help only when students ask for it. When students do ask, teachers should listen carefully before responding. A good response will not simply supply a solution or explanation, but will help students think about the problem and identify what they still don't understand. Asking good questions is one of the most important things a teacher can do to help students learn; the rest is up to the students.

A teacher's work is not to spoon-feed the student

A good teacher is someone who helps you understand what it means to be an expert and then lets you practice so that you can eventually become one yourself.

A good teacher does not just tell you what to think; he or she helps you learn how to think. That is, after all, part of what being human is: learning how to think—learning how to exercise your judgment in evaluating evidence and arguments.

A good teacher doesn't just give you answers. A good teacher helps you learn how to find your own answers—not only answers to academic questions, but also the broader questions about how to live a well-considered life.

Takeaway: You are guiding the thinking and learning of your students. Focus on providing them with tools and guidance how to think, how to learn, and how to assess their own understanding.

A teacher is a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage. The job of guiding students' thinking is much more important than the job of teaching them specific facts. The key role of a teacher is to help students develop their own intellectual skills, to become independent learners.

The best way to do this is to provide them with tools, not answers. A tool is something that helps you think and learn, that lets you do things you couldn't do before. But you still have to figure out how to use it.


Thank you for sticking with me until the end. It really means a lot to me that you took an interest. I hope you enjoyed it.

I am always looking for insights, so share your experiences in the comments below.

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