I know that I know nothing (by Anita Kwiatkowska)

Graduating from University felt awesome and life was beautiful. Full of enthusiasm and open for fresh perspectives I was ready to walk the new path as a fully qualified EFL teacher.

I had taught before graduation – most students did. I already had my favourite games and a foolproof set of grammatical exercises that would make an idiot grasp the difference between Present Simple and Present Continuous.

Needless to say I thought I knew everything a modern EFL teacher should know. To make the matter worse, my qualifications at that time were much higher than my colleagues’. And that led to pride.

Clearly I didn’t know everything but it took me a few years and a great deal of reflection to reach the conclusion that I, actually, know nothing.

All teachers are used to being the ones who know, lead and rule in the microcosm of the classroom. They are the ones who have power – to decide what subject matter will be covered during a class, to make students work, to fail or praise them. Consequently so many of us tend to forget what teaching is about. In my view – teaching is all about learning and teachers, as opposed to people of any other profession, should never ignore or diminish that fact.

As everyone, I’ve had and met a countless number of teachers. Some of them were competent and dedicated professionals, the others – quite the opposite. Looking back, the teachers I disliked most were the ones who did not want to accept or invite any changes to their lives having taught in the same school for a number of years, using the same course books and methods, demanding respect, asking no questions. From my present day perspective I feel very sad about them.

These people didn’t want to receive any further training or try out new ideas in the classroom. Frequently conceited, aloof and convinced of their superiority, they chose the comfy stabilization of a bored but settled teacher who knows it all.

And I know I don’t. Not because of my age, insufficient experience or lack of education.

No one knows everything. You can learn something from anyone being it a child, one of your students or colleagues. Personally I hold people who admit their lack of knowledge in great esteem as becoming conscious of the fact made me gain respect for myself.

Note: This article by Anita Kwiatkowska originally appeared as a guest post on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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18 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    I can totally relate to this sentiment! When I train teachers, I often tell them that I know much less now than I did 20 years ago. They always think I’m joking.

    Sometimes, I think that’s the turning point in serious professional development–when you stop saying you’re a lifelong learner just because it’s the right thing to say and realize that you’re a lifelong learner because even a lifetime won’t be enough time to learn all you need to know.

    Thanks for putting voice to a feeling I think a lot of us share!

  2. Vicky Loras says:

    Hi Anita!
    What a post! It made me think a lot. I graduated from university in 2001 and thought I could do anything. But, like you and many others, I realized as you very well wrote that I knew absolutley nothing. Which was disappointing at the time, but was a rude awakening that shook me up a little (I needed that!).
    I really love the point where you mention that “You can learn something from anyone being it a child, one of your students or colleagues.” Many are the times when I learn something new and I have my “hey,that’s a good one-I didn’t know that” moment. And I am happy, because I learned something new!
    Great post – terrific food for thought!
    Thank you!

  3. Well thank you for inviting me 🙂

    I agree it might be viewed as a turning point – once you’ve realized how little you know, the world becomes interesting and full of opportunities to learn again 🙂

  4. Sara Hannam says:

    A great post. There is so much truth in the cliche “the only thing I know as I learn more, is how much more there is to learn”. This has been my experience of life, education and teaching. What is best about realising this is that it helps us to keep an open mind and take each new chance as an opportunity to gain more insight. This is a never ending process. It also helps us to realise that being right or wrong is not the point. It’s learning there are always so many ways of doing things. Thanks. I really enjoyed reading this!

  5. christina_mark says:

    Great post, Anita! Simply, yet truly said! Personally, I have been teaching for 4 only years and I’ve started feeling that way already! However, this constant effort to learn more and improve ourselves as teachers is what ‘keeps us on our toes’, which is the very essence of life. Thank you for reminding us the most fundamental truth about the teaching profession.

  6. Ladies – thank you so much for these kind words!

    It makes me very happy to know that there are more of us 🙂

    Having realized how little I know makes me feel humble most of the time. I respect people who know more and less than me. What’s more I no longer feel the need to prove how much I’ve learned or achieved – I know it and that’s enough.

    I agree with Sara that ‘being right or wrong is not the point’ – one really needs a lot of time and reflection to be able to say that.

    Thanks again for the comments!

  7. Great post Anita. This is one of the most important qualities I look for in a teacher. Are you willing to question your current methods? Are you actively trying to develop? I can teach you something and you can teach me something. None of us can ever say there is nothing more to learn. We have to help each other become better. Perfection is in the striving towards a goal, not in it’s attainment.

  8. Thanks Nick!

    Great to know we agree on that as well 🙂

  9. Verra says:

    There are times when I question myself ” Am I really that bright? ” Lol…back at times when I was teaching at the very first time. I felt like, ” Oh My god! I’m finally teaching! I’m gonna share my knowledge with my students! I’m well-prepared, and I’m ready! ” Lol…it was like hundreds of years ago. And now, I’m feeling like, ” Oh no! I don’t know about this, how come I don’t know about that? ” Lol…then suddenly I felt like, my IQ was decreasing every single year..Lol..but it’s true, that we can learn a lot of things from our students. And here I am, ended up passing knowledge from one individual to another individual..Lol…that’s all about teaching-learning process, isn’t it?

  10. Hi Verra!

    Thanks a lot for the comment 🙂

    It’s great to know that there are more like-minded teachers around the world.

    I simply love the ‘hundreds years ago’ part – gosh, it feels ages since I started teaching! And I have so much more to learn 🙂

  11. Dale says:

    I really liked your post. I walk out of lessons all the time questioning myself “did I do that because it was right, or was it right because I did it?” If the answer is repeatedly the latter, then I know it’s time to go and have a think about what I’m doing and get out of my comfort zone! It’s not the most reassuring feeling there is, but, like you said, it makes you realise that the world is full of opportunities again.

  1. February 18, 2010

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  2. February 27, 2010

    […] I know that I know nothing (by Anita Kwiatkowski) – During the week she does her best teaching young learners. At the weekends she performs her duties as a Cambridge ESOL oral examiner, runs workshops for teachers or travels. She is a huge fan of Pedro Almodovar, loves face painting and … […]

  3. June 23, 2010

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