How to teach: What is teaching?

I am going to explain how to teach by giving examples of what teaching is and what teaching isn’t.

First, what teaching is: my two principles of teaching:

  1. Have your students learned what you wanted them to learn?
  2. How could you improve on this, so more of the students learn more of what you wanted them to learn?

Now, what teaching isn’t, I’ll give three examples:

  1. Recently, our school had a CPD event. One of the recurring themes in the presentation by the independent educational consultant was his showing us pictures of students in lessons. His rationale for why these lessons were good teaching practice was to examine the looks on students’ faces: “look how engaged Charlie is now!” Judging the quality of learning by vague guesses about how ‘engaged’ students are is not teaching
  2. Andrew Wiles, the great British mathematician solved Fermat’s Last Theorem, there is a lovely story about how he encountered the problem as a child by looking through books at his local library. He was enthralled and it was the beginning of his ultimately successful journey to solve a problem that had proved too difficult for the best mathematical minds for the previous 4 centuries. This is a great story about a man discovering a mathematical journey for himself, but it is not about teaching.
  3. Back to the CPD event, we were presented with an activity that was positioned as good practice in maths. We worked in groups to decode a message, there were various instructions about how to work in a group and how a lower case L was not the number 1. There was no attempt to clarify what we might have been learning from this activity. Indeed, after we had done it, the consultant said that in his opinion it was probably more about literacy and communication skills than maths. This was an activity that he had cherry picked to exemplify good practice. This is not teaching.

My principles of teaching inherently involve practice that is teaching: giving consideration to the curriculum you are teaching, assessing whether students have learned this curriculum and reflecting and improving on this so that they learn more, and you teach it better next time.

I will finish this by producing a schema that generalises the points I have made:

Schema How to teach



5 thoughts on “How to teach: What is teaching?

    1. Hi Martin, this was not made explicit.

      My view is that ‘just maths’ should be taught in maths lessons. From the activity that we were asked to do, the consultant seemed to imply that the maths was of secondary importance, and the focus was on teamworking, communication and literacy. I reject these as objectives to be taught in a maths lesson.

      Best, Rufus


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