Monday, 27 April 2015

Why do I need a teacher?

Walking the dogs through the glorious Welsh landscape is brilliant thinking time. Today they were particularly well behaved. I could walk the lanes with my hands in my pockets and with no pulling on the leads. The weather was hot enough to be very pleasant and with a gentle breeze blowing it was just great. I had chosen a route that had no sheep in the fields on either side of the lane. Most have now produced their lambs and the shepherds are tending to keep them all close to the farm buildings. They will all be out and about soon enough.

I was thinking about what it was that a teacher did. A bit like the ‘If we have Google, why do we need a teacher?’ Google alone would work if education was simply about collecting bits of knowledge. You will know my views on the need for and the value of knowledge. We need as much as we can get and it needs to be readily accessible. I hope you do not read into this piece that I am espousing any view that lowers the status of knowledge. I am most certainly not!

In the very rural area in which I live there are lots of trees. I like trees. But I am not very good at what used to be called ‘nature’. My wife can look at a flower in the hedgerow and almost certainly identify it. All I know is that she is consistent. I don’t actually know if what she identifies a flower as is truly that particular flower’s name. I trust her, though so I am pretty sure she is right.

Back to trees. I was wondering how one identifies a particular tree. I can identify an oak tree by the shape of the leaves and I think I know that a sycamore has those helicopter like seed pods. I can do a fir tree. But that is about it. Oh no, I think I can do beech as it has a distinctive bark, silvery and peeling.

But what actually matters in tree identification? Is it leaf shape, or seed pods, or bark? What else. Will any one of these do or do different identification features work at different times of the year? So many questions. Each of which I could Google, and there is probably an iPhone app that allows me to take a picture and identifies the tree for me!

So I started thinking about how a teacher would help me in my quest to be a tree identifier. I know they could tell me what tree was what. But what they would have, if they were a great teacher, is a system for tree identification. They would tell me, I am making this bit up as I do not know how to do it for trees, to look at the leaf shape first and then the bark and also the angle that the branches form at. I know from art that different trees sprout branches at their own particular angle. It is this system that the teacher has and knows that I need. Not just a list of tree and matching leaf shapes.

Let me also add why discovery methods are likely to fail. Am I likely to discover this tree identification system for myself? Does one actually exist? As a naive tree identifier I don’t even know if there is a system. As an old hand at learning I do know that there are systems for most things. Naive learners do not even know that!