Content Knowledge

Dave MulderSchool Leaders, The Teachers' LoungeLeave a Comment

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Image by krisolin (cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

There are countless of quotes floated about attributed to Albert Einstein. I’m sure many of them–probably most of them–are authentic. Some are probably not. To his credit, he did have a lot of good stuff to say about a great many topics beyond physics. I think the above is a good example, and a worthy admonishment for all educators.

Of course teachers need to have solid pedagogical knowledge (how to teach.) But they also have to have solid content knowledge (what to teach.) And if teachers can’t explain things simply, maybe it’s because they don’t actually understand it well enough themselves.

That’s a weighty thought for me, as a teacher of future teachers. How do we ensure that teachers know how to teach, and also what to teach?

I hope it’s a weighty thought for my fellow educators as well. If we are going to be real about what we are doing in the classroom, maybe this is a place to start: how well do we really understand the content we are teaching?

Do I really understand dividing fractions? Or am I just teaching students the steps to follow?

Do I really understand the rock cycle? Or am I just having them read about it in their textbook and hoping the don’t ask too many questions?

Do I really understand how to read a topographical map? Or am I just using the teacher’s guide and going through the motions?

Do I really understand the themes in this novel I’ve assigned my students to read? Or am I basing my teaching on what I think I remember from the last time I read it myself (when was that again…a decade ago?)

Reflection is so important for teaching responsively!

I’ll close with one more great quote attributed to Einstein. Think on this, my friends:

“Education is not the learning of facts,

but the training of the mind to think.”


Einstein helping make things clearer for me…
(At the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles.)


  • Dave Mulder

    Dave taught in Christian schools for 14 years before joining the Education department at Dordt University in 2012. He has experience working with learners at every level from Kindergarten through graduate school, but spent much of his career teaching a variety of subjects for grades 5-8. He loves curriculum and instruction, has a mild obsession with educational technology, and is always excited to discuss reflective practice, school culture, and faith formation. Dave blogs at

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