How do your years as a student influence your behavior as a teacher?

Submitted by Erin Haskell Ross, NNETESOL Vermont Representative  erinhross16@gmail.com

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Something to think about: How do your years as a student influence your behavior as a teacher?

Most of us – as formally educated adults – have spent thousands of hours in classrooms as students, interacting with and learning from a series of teachers throughout our childhoods. We all have memories of favorite teachers who stimulated our curiosity and engaged our minds. But we can also recall teachers who left us confused or bored or uninspired. We remember projects and tasks that promoted new discoveries, as well as, repetitive classroom activities that were stultifying.

Now, WE are teachers and TESOLers, with our own students and our own classrooms. How have our years as learners influenced our teaching practice? Teaching is one of the few professions (except perhaps, parenthood and farming) for which childhood provides such extensive exposure to practitioners of the job. As a graduate student at American University, I was excited to learn that this experience has a name!

In the context of teacher development, in 1975, Dan Lortie first described the impact of these years of classroom experience as an “apprenticeship of observation” that instills in us strong images and assumptions about teachers and teaching behavior. The concept of an “apprenticeship” implies that we will model our professional practice on observed behavior and technique. And that is what happens, to greater and lesser degrees, as we become teachers.

Reflection prompt:
Stop and think about your own teaching practice. Retrieve some memories of teachers from your childhood.Compare their teaching behaviors with your own. Do you find both positive and negative models?Identify a few ways your teaching practice reflects your past as a learner despite your well-ground professional training.Interesting?

Many of us – as TESOLers – regularly reflect on our teaching to improve our practice.  The “apprenticeship of observation” is a rich source for consideration as we identify influences on our teaching behavior and beliefs. Some of our default teaching acts are rooted in these early conceptions of what teaching looks like – where we stand when we teach, the degree of formality we expect, what type of questions we ask, whether we favor explicit or implicit grammar explanations. Of course, our teacher training shapes our choices and blends theory with practice BUT, the impressions left by our “apprenticeship of observation” are deep – for better, or for worse.

For me, the “apprenticeship of observation” was an academic revelation that really piqued my interest. I have explored it in academic research; I have used it as reference when trying to reshape certain teaching habits; and I have exposed it as a common foundation in professional development sessions with volunteer teachers.  Perhaps you will also find something compelling in the idea that our observations as students shape our behaviors as teachers.

Here are several academic references that give a more extensive review of the “apprenticeship of observation”:

Borg, M. (2004).  The apprenticeship of observation. ELT Journal, 58 (3), 274-276.

Johnson, K. E. (2006). The sociocultural turn and its challenges for second language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 40(1), 235-257.

Lortie, D.C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.


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