Wednesday 11 June 2014

Teacher lust... Not what you think.

I came home last night at about 9:00, to find the house quiet and dark.  Now I have four sons, so this is strange.  Was it an ambush?  I made my presence known by knocking on the door and stumbling around with my suitcase.  And what did I find as I wandered through the house?

Three boys sitting at the table, playing Chess, with a candle as a light.  Lovely.  They were immersed in the game.  I came over and quickly sized up the game (after saying hello and hugs and everything).  I could see hundreds of potential moves, awesome moves, profound moves, moves that would marvel and amaze.  I was just bursting to tell them what they each should do.

The boys haven't played much chess, and I want them to love it.  If you have played chess the following experience may hit a cord (yes, yes, we will get to teacher lust).  You are playing a game with a friend and over come a couple of people who are pretty good at chess.  They suddenly start offering advice.  "Watch out for the Bishop", "You should bring the Rook down", "Take his Knight".  Of course their advice is correct, and it would be stupid not to follow it.  They then inject themselves into the game and 'hey presto' now it is their game - but you have the privilege of moving the pieces.  

This sucks.  The only way you get good at chess is to play, and to make all those dumb mistakes.  You MUST lose your Queen because you didn't see the Bishop!  This causes you to be fully on guard next time.  In other words, there is a progression everyone goes through, and there are a series of mistakes you will make, and must make, to improve.  You must be allowed to make mistakes.

When the expert prevents you from making those mistakes he/she is robbing the learner from learning.  Even though the learner may win.  But here is the thing - when people watch chess they just can't seem to stop their mouths from moving and telling people things.  This is called teacher lust.  It is fueled by the need to tell others what to do, the need to show others what you know, the inability to shut up and let people make mistakes.  It is rampant in the adult education sector.  And it is the destroyer of the natural learning curve.

Teacher lust has been identified as one of the biggest problems with mathematics education.  The over zealous teacher cannot, or does not, let students make, and learn, from mistakes.  They coach and prompt and hint and TELL learners what to do - just like in chess.  At the expense of learning.  This is often a result of insecurities and the need to be known as the expert.  If you want to be known as the expert - you never pass up an opportunity to show what you know, or that you know more than the others.

Teachers often micro-correct learners.  Even in macro problem-solving tasks teachers will correct learners' small mistakes - essentially rendering the learning from problem-solving useless!  Teacher lust has been attributed as one reason problem-solving based curriculum's have not delivered the results they promise.

The wise, mature, and good teacher lets students make mistakes.  AND lets them identify their own mistakes via natural feedback.  They know that if you tell the student anything - they rob the student of a powerful learning experience.  Good teachers shut up.  And good learners learn from mistakes.

Good educators are worth more than their weight in gold.  They are not people who know lots of information.  People who know lots can do more harm than good.

So, let your students make mistakes and learn from the naturally occurring feedback (like losing your Queen to a pawn!) - it is essential to their development.  Don't rob them of the opportunity to learn a real lesson.

Teacher lust - Rampant!     


  1. This is fabulous to think about...There is counsellor lust for sure! I'm thinking about this principle in life in general, allowing others to learn by doing...ha Tainui Schools old mantra! This idea promotes the value that getting it wrong is actually a step forward not backward and is to be celebrated. I'm wondering about how I currently do or could increase this thinking as a manager. It has the potential to be very permission giving for both teacher and student if you can rest in the non expert position.

  2. Tainui school! Those little legends. I didn't remember the mantra - maybe its been sitting in my sub-conscious all these years.

    I really like the idea that the 'expert' has my whole learning plan in view, not just the immediate issue. Because they understand the whole journey they understand that certain mistakes are a natural part of the process. Makes you realise how valuable these people are if you can ever find them.

    You are going to be one of these people :)