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I was in an informal debate once with a friend about education and the "universally best methods" for teaching, if such a thing is in fact possible.

A detailed definition of "universally best methods" in the context of our debate might have been "methods that could be applied by any teacher instructing any subject to any group of students to get good results."

My gut reaction was to state that the best teacher would be one who could walk into a room and assume nothing. Period. The person I was debating with asked me to qualify that statement more. I couldn't. I explained that I felt that to qualify it would be to detract from its value.

I'm not certain that it is definitely the case that assuming nothing is the best approach for any teacher with regards to any subject and class. To state that I was certain would be ignorant. Teaching is the toughest profession I have ever heard of or thought about. There are too many factors going on at any point. I've heard a saying that predicts that it takes people at least six months to "move into" a new job; that is, feel comfortable with the people, procedures, and routine that comprise the job. Teaching involves very little routine, and may well be a good physically-observable incarnation of "bringing order to chaos".

So, to return to the "assume nothing" statement... It seems to me that it is easier for somebody who knows something to watch somebody teach it again than for somebody who doesn't know something have to learn at a pace more rapid than they can accept. As a gifted student myself, I was frequently bored to tears in classes where this was the case, but having also had to grapple with difficult subjects, I'd rather be bored than not be able to get something.

Teachers who assume nothing start with no faults, and they don't fault students who don't fit into their established notion of prerequisite knowledge. If you're teaching Calculus, you don't assume that everybody already knows Trigonometry backwards and forwards. Of course, if it appears later on as though a small subsection of the class never went through Trig, those people probably shouldn't be in the class.

My eventual point--and since this is my first Everything node, I'll apologize to those who don't like to endure my verbose, sometimes tangential writing style--is that it's very difficult to erase a stereotype or a preconception, whereas it's relatively easy to create these things based on actual exposure. If you're in a class where everybody who wears blue t-shirts doesn't understand new grammar rules, and this is the case for the first several weeks, you're pretty safe assuming that you're going to have to spend more time working with the blue-shirted individuals when you bring up a new grammar concept. Yes, it's a stereotype, but it's one based on actual exposure and interaction, not on a sight-unseen assumption (there's that word again) about people you've never interacted with.

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