Philosophy of Teaching Series: Postulate #9

Elaboration of the Thirteen Postulates continues:

9. For an adult, the most important work of learning takes place away from the presence of the teacher. The teacher points to the work to be done and the learner does it, either alone or in voluntary association with other learners working on the same materials.

The principle that most of life’s tasks must be done at the individual level is readily accepted in a number of real circumstances. The basketball player understands his coach cannot shoot his baskets for him. The player himself must shoot them, and he must practice, and practice, and practice (on his own) until he can do so reliably and with subtle control. Usually, the coach doesn’t even set foot on the court. He stands on the sidelines and yells. Similarly, the movie director doesn’t practice the actor’s lines, the weight-traininer doesn’t lift the weights (except for his own training), and the drill sergeant doesn’t fire the weapons in target practice. Likewise, the parish priest confesses only his own sins and not those of an individual parishioner (there is no such thing as a group confession), and the physician doesn’t take the medicine he prescribes for his patients–each must do so himself by carefully following instructions.

All of these circumstances are perfectly analogous to the realities of the teacher-learner relationship. The teacher proposes and the learner disposes. A good rule of thumb is that an adult learner in a college or university setting should spend three hours outside of “class” for every hour spent inside. These “outside” hours are properly spent studying assigned readings (not just reading them), conducting assigned research, and in filling in the holes of his background preparation: looking up words, revisiting a forgotten (or never known) principle or concept needed for the current study. With a ratio of three-to-one, only twenty-five percent of a college student’s time is spent in the presence of his teacher.

[Here is the original article, “My Philosophy of Teaching” (opens in new window).  For all the articles in this series, click on the Teaching Philosophy link below or under Categories to the right.]