Monday, August 15, 2011

Is teaching always teaching?

As a high school English teacher, teaching anything else seems like it should be the same. A student cannot possibly understand algebra without first understanding (and memorizing) their multiplication tables. The same can be said about progressively more difficult vocabulary and material. (Starting a student with Sartre or Tolstoy as opposed to Silverstein or Roald Dahl is suicidal.) But teaching something other than a subject area (i.e. guitar) is actually different than I thought it would be.

A family member wanted to learn guitar so I was enlisted as the guitar teacher once per week. My first thought for the initial lesson was the overview of the guitar (frets, strings, size, etc.), followed by the outlining of notes, scales and chords. The foundations of music and most songs. Then I thought about this translation into English. Would I begin by teaching a student about verbs, nouns, etc.? What about phonemes, syllables and derivations? No. When small children begin learning language they learn by imitation, then establish their own rules based on what they hear and repeat and the reception they receive. However, a guitar player can't replicate what he sees in front of him or what he hears without first knowing the positions chords create, how to create them and actually "what" a guitar is.

Do we as humans "know" what words are, how language is created, etc. without necessarily knowing the rules to it? If so, does that mean there is something instinctual left within us--an animal with no more instincts? Or am I to recognize that the visceral desire to communicate, to speak and to be heard is something that comes from the way we learn to form our sounds into something understandable? Is teaching then slightly different when it comes to a skill as opposed to a subject (one can't learn how to build a deck without first knowing what a 2x4 is, etc.)? If so, are there then different methods to teaching and can teaching English then be somehow modified as to teach it as a skill rather than a subject? Can I teach my students "how" to read literature as opposed to how to answer questions about it? Can I teach them "how" literature is made as opposed to how it's read? What about how to appreciate it as opposed to how to "get it over with"?

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