Jeroen de Jong portret
Jeroen de Jong portret

Teaching is craftsmanship!

Craftsmanship! We use this term when we think that someone has done a really good job. When a coach of a football team does a good job, for example, or when a carpenter or carpentress has made a beautiful piece of furniture, we are quick to say that it is really the work of a professional. In recent years, there has also been an increased focus on craftsmanship in other professions, such as the police, healthcare, and also education. Craftsmanship is used to denote a certain quality of work. With a certain knowledge and skill, a certain passion for the craft, and with creating something that someone finds valuable. A beautiful cabinet, a winning team, but also, an instructive course or lecture! When we see teaching as craft, we also refocus on what we all want to do; deliver good education. So we try to create value for our students, because at the end of the day, that is the group we are teaching for.   

But to do this it takes quite a bit. For instance, do we know what our students value? Is it the one course that uses cases and examples to ensure that material is really appealing? Or that working lecture in which a student is truly inspired? It is important that, in order to deliver professional work, we know what students find valuable, what inspires them, and in what way. Especially because what students find valuable is constantly changing. My own children are already taught on laptops and tablets. Are they still waiting for material that is only offered through lectures and books? I sometimes catch myself losing sight of that when discussing teaching hours and publication pressure. Does my teaching still match the experiences of current and future students? Is the material still relevant in the field?   

This means that we need to address another crucial component of professionalism, which is continuous development in the ways we can continue to create value. So keep talking to your students, but also to the professional field, to keep understanding how we can best create that value, and what knowledge and skills are needed to do so. And that is only possible if teachers are given the autonomy and space to actually deliver and develop professional work. Teachers need trust, and leeway to try out and invent new ways of continuing to deliver professional work. It is therefore time to go back to the core, to teaching as craft that is constantly evolving. Inspiring students, letting them experience those "aha!" moments, and seeing them develop into expert professionals, that is what we teach. Teaching, that is actually a wonderful profession. 

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Want to respond to the column? Then send Jeroen an email: jeroen.dejong [at] ru.nl (jeroen[dot]dejong[at]ru[dot]nl).