- An alternative way to look at education, an alternative way to educate



Education articles by Gary John Ilines about natural learners and what a real teacher should be


I started as a teacher in 1987. I began as a high school Maths teacher in Jamaica, then worked as an EFL instructor to teenagers and adults in Poland, South Korea and Thailand. I trained as a primary class teacher in the UK and France, taught primary from Year 4-6 in the UK, France, Thailand and China, and then home-schooled my own children through IGCSEs and A-Levels.

Gary John Ilines
BA Honours, CTEFLA, PGCE Modern Languages, MA International Education


TEACHING LEARNERS AND LEARNED TEACHERS - What a real teacher should be


Jerry Mintz is the founder and director of the Alternative Education Resource Organisation and one of my educational heroes. One of his favourite motifs is that "children are natural learners," therefore why the need for these artificial places of so-called education, named 'schools', where the implicit paradigm is that children are lazy, incapable of independent learning, and so they require rules, discipline, competition, absurd and meaningless rewards and - God protect us - homework?

That children are natural learners is so self-evident that it is a clear indication of how perverse the education system has become throughout the world that someone like Jerry Mintz is even seen at all as 'alternative' just by making such an obvious claim. In this article, however, I would like to go Jerry one further and make the claim that not only are children and in fact all people natural learners - until they've had it crushed out of them by formal schooling - but that people are also natural teachers and I would like to suggest that this idea could be even more powerfully influential in the cause for alternative education models.

Anecdotally now, I was a teacher for around twenty-five years in a wide range of countries, institutions and age-levels. I wouldn't quite go as far as to say that I hated every minute of it, but let's just say that all-in-all it was an exhausting, stressful and sometimes humiliating experience and holidays could never come quickly enough. Now I am out of the classroom, but I am continuing teaching as I home-educate my teenage children and tutor local Thai children in English literacy. To my surprise, I am finding that I love teaching. For the first time, I am not only enjoying the teaching but I am even looking forward to it. That was always an issue with me as with many teachers: the thought of it is generally worse than actually doing of it; that feeling you get lying in bed the night before the new school year begins and you've just had seven beautiful teaching-free weeks. It's a horrible feeling. I am living proof - as are many alternative educators - that teaching need not be a horrible experience. That's the first point I want to make: teaching is a beautiful and dignified experience in the right conditions.

"The best way to learn is to teach" is one of those aphorisms - like "history is written by the victors" - that everyone knows without truly considering the implications. If this is true, then the clear implication is that teaching IS learning, that teaching and learning is the same thing. In some situations that is literally true. For example, I am having to study Arthur Miller and The Merchant of Venice, or mitosis, in order to teach it to my teenage children. As I read it to them and teach it I am learning more. This statement is less literally true when I am teaching a four-year-old Thai girl to read and write abc. However, I would rephrase the statement as: learning and teaching are manifestations of the same thing, let's call it the 'educational imperative'. Teacher-centred learning has gotten a bad name in recent years as if the teacher should apologise for his or her existence. But great teaching need not have to look on apologetically from the wings. Great teachers and great story-tellers - Socrates, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, Jerry Mintz - these are people who can hold an audience and inspire great respect because they are so learned. There's the word: learned (with emphasis on the second syllable). The learned teacher. Apprenticeships are teacher-centred are they not, with the emphasis on "be like me", become like me, a thinking and evolving practitioner. Every successful professional will tell you that most of their time is spent keeping up with new developments in the field. They are learners and they are learned and they can teach. Look at the little chicks following around the mother hen and copying what she is doing. The mother hen is trying to figure out where to find food and where there is danger and the chicks are copying this learning behaviour.

As learning has become twisted and perverted into a formal schooling system which destroys the natural learning habits of children, the same thing has happened to teaching. Teaching is looked upon as a lowly profession, a dirty and stressful job that no one in their right mind with an ounce of real talent would want to do. "Those who can do, those who can't teach" (and Woody Allen adds, "And those who can't teach, teach gym") I've seen the looks of pity that fathers in businesses or law firms used to cast at me when I was a Primary Class Teacher. They may have respected my courage and patience but did not envy me for a second. This is a major problem for education. Teaching should be honourable, dignified and elevated in status. Bring back the learned teacher, I say. Teaching is not only beautiful but it's the most natural thing in the world because teaching is learning. But as long as we continue with this prison-like approach to education called 'school', it's not only the natural learning of children that is being destroyed but something perhaps even more valuable.

© Copyright Gary John Ilines.