Introduction

This chapter is an abridged version of “How Teachers Learn” by John Holt. It talks about the new things that teachers learn while teaching children. Although it is teachers who are supposed to be teaching, there is always a lot to be learnt from children during the process of teaching too.

Nora and her Book

A five-year-old, named Nora, taught the narrator more about the things children do when teaching themselves to read. He was visiting her family over a weekend. She often came up to him with a book in his free time and asked him to help her read it. The book was Hop on Pop, a very good book for beginners.

Most of the time, the author just sat still and silent, a very hard thing for a teacher to do. The first few pages of the book were easy: then Nora began to meet more words that she did not know. Even then he didn’t tell her the word, only suggested now she might figure it out. 

Soon, an odd thing happened. Nora kept misreading a word that previously she had read correctly. The narrator wondered if she had forgotten the word already, or if she was being careless. But she was very bright. It was a puzzle.

To understand the learning problems of another person, particularly a child, we must try to see things through their eyes. It is not easy for a child to remember what a word looks like from one page to the next because they do not know that word. 

Familiarity with Letters and Words

The author recalled an experience where he had printed a sheet of paper with something written in an Indian language on it. He could not make out even the commonly occurring words there because he did not know the script. Similarly, it takes a child some time to get used to the shapes of letters and words. So, we must give them plenty of time and not be surprised or upset by what looks like slowness, or stupid mistakes. 

One of the reasons why children from illiterate homes are at a disadvantage when they start learning to read may be that they lack this familiarity with the shapes of words and letters. This may also be a reason why we should give children time to get used to the look of letters and words, before we begin teaching them more. It is also a very good reason for letting the child himself/herself decide when he/she wants to start to read.

Not long ago, a teacher told the author about her work with young, disadvantaged children who could not read or did not read. They children liked to use the books in the library, but they didn’t read them. They just turned over the pages and looked at them. Only later did the author realize that for children who had hardly ever seen any books, this casual looking was a necessary first step to reading. These children had to get familiar with the look of letters in general, before they learned to read.

Conclusion

There can be no doubt about the fact that children are taught by their teachers. But there are occasions when teachers are taught certain things by the children or the situations arising out while dealing with the children. Therefore, teaching is a learning process in itself.