Step Forward Standards-Based Language Learning For Work And Academic Readiness Teaching Styles: Guide on the Side or Sage on the Stage?

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Teaching Styles: Guide on the Side or Sage on the Stage?

In the early 90’s California teachers were being laid off in high numbers. There was a huge budget crisis, districts were raising class sizes and eliminating classes, which meant many of us had to go. I was a second year teacher, don’t worry. I got my severance notice in March and then started looking around for another place.

I found myself interviewing people growing up in Moreno Valley. I felt that I was ready to do anything, but I will never forget those who asked me about my teaching style. He asked, “Would you consider yourself a Stage Genius or a Sidekick?”

What a great question. Just asking a question means a lot. When I say I’m a Stage Genius, I can immediately be considered a mastermind. A teacher who wants to control only wants his students to obey the law. Or even worse, I can be seen as a pretentious person whose main goal in teaching is to hear their own words.

When I sat in the interview room, it seems that the most correct political answer would be Guide on the Side. “Guide” doesn’t seem like a loaded word like “Sage”. The leader leads the way. The guide shows the real thing. Leaders know the pitfalls to avoid.

I had to respond quickly. It’s been almost twenty years, and I’m still thinking about my answer. I was hoping that in time I would revise my answer. Surprisingly, I’m still happy with the answer I gave.

Basically, I believe that there are times when a teacher should be the Sage on the Stage and times when the teacher should step out of the way and be a guide on the sidelines. In addition, I have seen very effective teachers who are able to work in the classroom, create amazing discussions, and help students to create all the lessons from the front of the class. Conversely, I have seen some teachers who spend very little time in front of the class, choosing to do more group teaching. Therefore, the situation and the teacher’s personality play a major role in the debate: Sage on Stage or Guide on the Side.

Thinking about the question “Sage” or “Guide” is not a bad idea. My philosophy in teaching, and in life, has always been balanced and calm. There have been times when I’ve been stuck in a Sage or Guide scroll for longer than I needed to. Simply asking yourself this question can lead to meaningful soul searching and a deeper understanding of yourself as a person and as a teacher.

Pros and Cons of Sage on Stage

There are certainties in Sage’s approach to the Stage. A teacher on his stage, managing the flow of information is much faster than a Guide on the Side. I’ve tried to incorporate “hints on the side” techniques into my grammar lessons, but I’ve found that direct instruction works best for introducing basic concepts. I can use “remedial” techniques to help get more information. However, there are many grammar and punctuation skills that students must learn in ten months that do not fit the philosophy of Guide on the Side.

This benefit is also the main argument against the Sage method. As more demands are placed on teachers, it becomes easier for them to go through the process with this method. However, besides being boring for the teacher to be on stage all day, students need time to digest and process what they know. Creative techniques such as lectures and group discussions tend to favor quick thinkers. These students pay attention to the class. As a result, many in the classroom miss out on this important skill.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Sidebar

I recently started a sixth grade class on a Hebrew trip to Egypt as follows:

Pretend that you are a guest in someone else’s home. After a few weeks, you realize that you are doing all the housework, your mother is cooking all the meals, and your father has started paying all the bills. You were already a guest in this house. Now, what have you been?

The students had to read the stories in their social studies books and explain how the Hebrews were like your family in the story. The terms he got were very good. The ensuing discussion continued to be fruitful as one group after another presented new ways of looking at the metaphor. I was a bit of a side-tracker, picking up ideas along the way.

The next step was that the students had to create the second part of my “stranger” metaphor. They read about Moses and the Exodus and had to make an illustration of how they escaped from the house where they were slaves.

The lesson was time-consuming, but very useful. Although it was effective, I felt that there were no things that I needed to teach the students directly. Many students, not having much knowledge of the subject, need me to put this period in history. Again, I returned to being a Sage on Stage.

Final Thoughts

The moral of the story is that the art of teaching is knowing when to be a “leader” and when to be a “smarter”. Again I return to my first point: Just ask yourself the question “What Kind of Teacher Am I?” it is enough to help you become a good teacher. Always remembering to strike a balance between the two provides the opportunity for self-expression that we all need.

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