The Difference Between a Teacher and a Learner
What is the difference between teacher and learner?
We could say that learning is the reception of knowledge and teaching is disseminating knowledge. It’s pretty easy to tell in most American classrooms who the learners and teachers are in the classroom. The teachers present themselves differently, they’re usually at the front of the class and the center of attention.
But can we really think of wisdom as a transaction like that? Is that how it works?
If I call you on the phone, I’m certainly the caller and you are the recipient of my call. But after a while, we forget who it was that made the call. We discuss, converse, teach, and learn and our roles are far less static than we initially thought. And in a school or a family, it seems that we should know who is making the call. Who is the giver of knowledge and who is receiving it?
Certainly it works bi-laterally. Children teach us just as much, if not more, than we teach them. But is it a transmission of knowledge? I’m not so sure.
It’s clear that we’re born learners. That’s hard to argue with. But we’re also born teachers. When my son was four months old, we thought we would attempt to teach him how to sleep. Only you can’t really teach a four month old how to sleep. We drew the curtains, put on a white noise machine, gave him lots of time in his crib… and through lots of crying and frustration, he learned how to fall asleep by teaching himself how to do it. I can’t possibly know he did it, because sleeping is the first thing I learned how to do on my own as well. I merely created the conditions necessary for him to learn how to fall asleep.
And, the most fascinating part is that this is how all learning works. There is no transmission. It’s a game of pick up sticks. When I wrote and modeled subtraction problems on the board for my students, I wasn’t transmitting any knowledge. I was simply giving them a structure with which they could teach themselves.
So what’s the difference between a teacher and a learner? Well, I’ve heard before that all teachers are, at their core, great learners. But all learners are great teachers – they have to be, or the learning wouldn’t happen. So while a teacher is not equivalent to a learner, there is a dichotomy to it. Inside every learner is a demanding teacher, and inside every teacher is a curious learner. And when two people come together to learn and teach one another, magic happens.
Learning and teaching are just as much internal acts as they are acts of collaboration and kinship.