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There are good teachers who distinguish themselves by their methods of teaching. I have also met a number of good teachers who stand out due to their level of content knowledge. But, the truly outstanding teachers are those who typically have a sound grasp of both methods and content.
By methods, I am referring to the way of actually delivering the instructional experience – outside of any specific content knowledge needed. Methods includes teaching philosophy, beliefs, approach to communication, ability to empathize with students, creativity, etc. Methods include pedagogy, but goes further than the style or strategies of instruction to include the emphasis and ability of the teacher to develop a professional and positive relationship with students and families. These methods are also used to create meaningful connections with other teachers. In short, good methods are related to the talents and skills of a true teacher-leader.
Content is easier to recognize and define. It is simply the level of content area knowledge the teacher possesses. Strong content knowledge is usually associated with having formally studied the content in question at the undergraduate and/or graduate level. If the course being taught was not the teachers field of study, strong content knowledge can also be achieved through practical experience and/or post-degree programs.
Below is a matrix I created to describe teachers in various states of methods and content ability. This matrix is not designed to describe every teacher, but to simply provide a basis for further conversation concerning these two areas.
Teacher Methods/Content Matrix (Roddy, 2011)
|Strong Methods|| || |
|Weak Methods|| || |
As one who has engaged in significant formal training in education, it may be somewhat odd to point out that many of the best known “stars” of teaching had little or no formal training (Socrates for example). This does not imply that we do not have much to learn from the study of teaching. It does, however, imply that much can also be gained from an appreciation of what Dewey called a “spirit of inquiry” and good old common sense.
This post was inspired by:
Jackson, Philip W. (1986). The Practice of Teaching (Chapter 1, On Knowing How to Teach). Teachers College Press, Columbia University.