On Teaching and Tutoring

By:  Sam Blumenfeld
08/27/2012
       
On Teaching and Tutoring

 There is a world of difference between classroom teaching and one-on-one tutoring. I’ve experienced both and know the difference. Classroom teaching is more a job of mob management, endless record keeping, mandated testing, and following government instructions rather than actual teaching. A room full of rambunctious children out to defy you can turn teaching into a game with winners and losers. Frustration is the main emotion experienced by classroom teachers. Besides, most of today’s teachers have been badly prepared by their colleges of education. Which is why they are so poor at teaching the basics and why test scores continue to reflect the lack of genuine learning that takes place in too many of today’s public schools.

There is a world of difference between classroom teaching and one-on-one tutoring. I’ve experienced both and know the difference. Classroom teaching is more a job of mob management, endless record keeping, mandated testing, and following government instructions rather than actual teaching. A room full of rambunctious children out to defy you can turn teaching into a game with winners and losers. Frustration is the main emotion experienced by classroom teachers. Besides, most of today’s teachers have been badly prepared by their colleges of education. Which is why they are so poor at teaching the basics and why test scores continue to reflect the lack of genuine learning that takes place in too many of today’s public schools.

One-on-one tutoring is an entirely different kind of experience in which the minds of both the tutor and the student are engaged in a wonderfully intense brain-to-brain exchange called teaching and learning. The tutor has been engaged by the student’s parents for a reason: to teach what the student has to know, to expand that student’s mind with mental skills that are necessary for survival in our high-tech civilization.

Much of tutoring is involved in helping a student get rid of bad habits and inculcating good ones. The public schools have created functional illiterates by the millions, but few of them ever engage a tutor to undo what the government school has done to them. I have several principles which I apply to the complex job of teaching: Never teach anything that later has to be untaught, and never let a student develop a bad habit. Our public schools do both. The students I’ve tutored have had to unlearn what they were taught, and I have attempted with great difficulty to help a student get rid of a bad habit, which his public school teachers permitted him to develop.

Few teachers write about the glories of classroom teaching. But I recently came across a book, What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World, by Taylor Mali. I wonder how many public school teachers would actually agree with him. The jacket copy reads:

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Sam Blumenfeld (photo)

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