The greatest pedagogical mistake is not, as Willingham asserts, trying to teach all students and subjects in their preferred modality—nobody does that anyway. The biggest misconception is assuming that other people learn the way you do, or valuing your particular strengths and preferences over your students’.And she reminded me of a question that I've been wondering about for a long time: do teachers have different learning preferences, on average, than students?
In other words, do teachers (including professors) have different views on what constitutes successful teaching than the average student? Only about a quarter of our students go on to complete a 4-year college degree, but all teachers must have at least that. Similarly, only about 5% of undergrads go on to earn a PhD -- something that almost all professors have at most institutions. In other words, teachers are not a representative sample of the population.
And it makes me wonder if teachers have different experiences in and impressions of school while they're students than does the average student. More specifically, since teachers had more success in school than the average student I wonder if people who become teachers are the ones who found school more enjoyable and the pedagogy more interesting.
During my undergrad years I served on a committee to revise the course evaluations that are given at the end of each semester. I pushed for the surveys to include more questions about how engaging the teaching and assignments of the professor were, while many of the faculty on the committee pushed to ask more questions about how much time and effort students had put into the course. I resented the implication that if students weren't getting what they wanted out of a class that it was their fault. And then I started teaching. Students complained that classes and assignments were boring, and I was shocked at student behavior and blamed them for not working hard enough (as did, I think I think it's fair to say, most teachers at the school).
Part of the reason for my reaction (and that of the faculty and other teachers) is simple defensiveness -- if the problem with a class is that it's not engaging enough or that the right assignments aren't given, then it becomes the fault of the teacher. But I think the larger reason is a lack of understanding. I'd leave class and incredulous and saying something to the effect of "when I was in 6th grade, I listened to the teacher and did my homework; why can't they?" And I've heard people on the college level say or imply that they sat down and read the hundreds of pages of poorly-written, dry academic literature each week and they don't understand why a student wouldn't be able to do that.
In short, I wonder if teachers and professors are the ones for whom our current system of education worked. They're the ones who not only succeeded in school, but went on to voluntarily attend more. And I wonder if that means that teachers have difficulty understanding those who struggle or would rather learn a different way (generally speaking, of course).