Why do I need a teacher when I’ve got Google?

why do i need a teacher book cover

In the process of writing a review of this book, I started selecting quotes and excerpts to showcase some of author Ian Gilbert’s ideas and wit. However, it soon became apparent that I had too many quotes to include, and it’d be easier to just do a collection of excerpts (teachers are allowed to be lazy, er.. efficient). So, instead of reviewing the book in the traditional way, (for now) I’m just going to post a few of my favourite lines. Note: numbers in parentheses are page numbers.

I highly suggest this book to anyone who’s involved in education — teachers, students, administrators, parents, politicians — everyone really, for we are all linked to public education in some way or another. Whether it’s simply through our tax dollars, our neighborhoods and communities, or our own learning, we should all have at least some passing concern with how we educate our young, for it speaks volumes about what we value, and ultimately determines where we’re collectively heading.


On the etymology of the word pedagogue:

“..I find it curious to note that the word ‘pedagogue’ used to relate to the slave who escorted Roman children to school.” (21)

On the historical role of teachers and the information revolution:

“The teachers were the educated ones, who had been to university, and whose job it was to drip feed the knowledge back into the community for whom the teacher was pretty much the only source of such knowledge.

But then two interesting and related things happened to knowledge. Like an egg in a microwave, it exploded and went everywhere.” (21)


There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and a whole ‘nother world that awaits.

On the limited scope of school:

“School is a narrow little academic tunnel and there is a far bigger picture out there once you get out of school if only you can hang on to your self-worth and your sense of ambition as you go through it.” (18)

“Remember, nothing like schools exist in nature. Unless you’re a fish.” (106)

On nature versus nurture:

“Just when you thought the whole ‘nature v nurture’ debate had quietened down along comes the whole concept of epigenetic theory and it kicks off again. Epigenetics is all to do with the way genes can be reprogrammed by cultural, maternal and environmental influences and, although you, as a teacher, may have no input with regard to the ‘nature’ element of the equation, you need to be aware of the effects of ‘nurture’. Not least because your actions actually change the very nature of the DNA of the children in your care.” … the ‘truce’ is summed up by science writer Matt Ridley (2003): ‘No longer is it nature-versus-nurture, but nature-via-nurture.’” (57)


Gilbert sheds a ton of light on various aspects of neuroscience and how they apply to the classroom.

On left and right brains:

“It’s not that one side does one thing and one does another, it’s that they both have different but complementary subtle processing functions that allow us to grasp reality and process it as effectively as possible. He concludes with the affirmation, ‘It is how the two sides of the brain complement and combine that counts.’ (51)

On the importance of teachers’ understanding of advances in neuroscience:

“You wouldn’t train to be a car mechanic without lifting up the bonnet so why should you be allowed to be a moulder of the physical and lasting structure of young brains without having to have some understanding of the neurological effects of your actions?” (50)

On the value of reading:

“..OECD research found that being an avid and enthusiastic reader at school was more of an advantage to a child than having educated and professional parents.” (95)

On education reform:


How often do teachers think about the effect we’re having on our students’ DNA?

“No wonder we are having such a battle to change the way we do things in schools. No wonder introducing areas such as thinking skills can be so challenging. Built into the very DNA of the whole concept of schools – even the buildings themselves if you still happen to be teaching in a Victorian school with its factory-like high windows and austere appearance – is the goal of getting young people not to think for themselves.” (102)

On teaching versus learning:

“Is your job to teach children to pass exams? Or is it to teach children to think and, from there, grow as morally sound and decent people who are educated to know right from wrong and use their education accordingly?

Your answer to that question will determine what sort of society your grandchildren grow up in.” (119)

On ‘more efficient working from teachers’:

“..if the word ‘laminate’ crops up they are trying too hard! Ease back! Get a life! I really, don’t want you to work hard.” .. ‘As the Eskimo saying goes, ‘If you sweat, you die.’ I want you to work less hard because the less work you do the better their learning, if you plan things well enough. As I have said, what I want is more efficient working from teachers. Work less but achieve the same, or even better results.” (167)


I know that in my first teaching experience, I was that overworking teacher at times — printing and cutting out dozens upon dozens of pictures, arranging them into bags for each group, and carefully distributing them to the class. Gilbert’s book is rife with suggestions, tips and strategies for the classroom, and countless times his words forced me to evaluate the mindset, mood, and materials I have brought into the classroom at one time or another. Before I risk posting excerpts from every single chapter of the book in this post, I shall leave it at that for now. (Although I’m just realizing that I haven’t even gotten to thunks, spaced learning, or the role of curiosity yet. This book truly does touch upon everything we talk about as 21st century teachers.) Check it out!

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