Myth: Teachers Know Everything

I grew up under the illusion that adults pretty much knew everything. That included my mom, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and of course, my teachers. No one highlighted this all-knowingness better than my dad, who had a standard response every time I asked him, “How do you know?”

“Daddies know everything.”

No longer a child, the frailty of the ruse I established years ago has crumbled. The same people who I grew up thinking knew it all actually don’t. In fact, their inability to know all – and their quests to discover, rethink, and learn – is a strength, not a weakness (as I’d have previously assumed).

The culture of school when I was young dictated that teachers knew everything and they were there to impart information. Most troubling, I think, is that, despite having had some wonderful teachers, I can’t remember a single instance until high school of one of them acknowledging openly that they didn’t know something. So a dangerous cycle was allowed to proliferate: student asks, teacher answers, student is satisfied. Repeat.

Only later in my educational career did I see teachers who saw themselves as learners, too.

Seeing a teacher as having the dual role of teacher-learner surely allowed me greater confidence to approach, question, challenge, and debate the teacher.

I am often troubled by my students’ inability to challenge me or question whether I know what I’m talking about. I am so high up on the pedestal that, in their eyes, I couldn’t possibly make a mistake or be wrong about anything.

Much more concerning than this is their parents’ even stronger beliefs in my omniscience. Parents ask questions, but they don’t challenge me. Whatever I say, they often accept.

I try to make clear to students and parents alike that there is room in our interactions for dialogue and disagreement. I try to make clear that I don’t have all the answers and that it is important we work to find them together.

I don’t know what it is, though. Seems everyone but me still thinks that teachers know everything…


2 responses to “Myth: Teachers Know Everything

  1. I frequently tell my students I don’t know everything. If they ask a question I don’t know the answer to (or even if I do sometimes but I like to take it as a teaching moment) we look it up together, do a search and talk about how to weed out the information we don’t need, talk about good sites to look up information, and we discover the answer together.

    • I tell them the same but I think it may be a cultural thing in which deference to the teacher and the teacher as master are ideas that are heavily promoted.

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