Teachers and Teaching
At a time when there is talk of teachers becoming obsolete and technology taking over the function, it may be relevant to record a very different perspective about teaching and teachers.
There is a lot written on this subject - a teacher should be fair, have a good sense of humor, be a friend philosopher and guide etcetera - but leaving aside these and other homilies and generalities, I will base this on what I observed about those teachers who inspired and showed me the way to think and make sense of life and the world around.
Please note that I am not referring to those who helped me get good grades neither am I talking of those who were immediately popular, I am restricting this to those teachers who impacted my learning process and left a lasting impact. It is not a definitive list or meant to be prescriptive in any way but only my simple learnings from life. I think it is necessary because teaching in its purest form is magical and powerful in influencing the learning process.
Information / knowledge and teaching
My best teachers – the ones whom I will never forget – were not overburdened by the knowledge and information that they carried, but seemed remarkably comfortable with their learning and helped others with consummate ease to make sense and see the magical quality of their understanding. They were of course, up to date with the latest in their subject but all that knowledge never stuck out like a vulgar protuberance on a parched landscape. The sheer excitement and passion with which they explored the vast landscape of their knowledge drew everybody in and made them love the subject. This was true across disciplines and so whether it was photosynthesis or macroeconomics, differential calculus or linguistics, the hallmark of great teachers remained unmistakably consistent.
The teachers who helped me learn believed that their learning was very simple and definitely graspable. Having set me at ease they would unleash powerful analogies and recount stories and do everything else to strip the subject of its complexities and render simple perspectives that dazzled and inspired everybody to go further down the road of exploring and learning. The worst teachers generally tried to impress everybody by showing how very complex and difficult their learning was and how one would have to work very hard and struggle to understand the esoteric knowledge.
It seems pretty obvious that learners understand learning and therefore those who love learning should make very good teachers. I found this to very true and the best teachers who taught me were in a never ending lifelong process of continuous updating and learning, not just their subject of specialization but all other areas of life as well.
As long as one is bitten by the learning bug, it becomes possible and convincing to initiate and help others along on the path of learning.
Bad teachers have stopped learning long ago.
Giving fish / teaching to fish
Good teachers do not dispense information / knowledge into the brains of unwilling students, they inspire and prod and create conditions for their students to enter the waters of knowledge and help them stay afloat. That’s what starts a lifelong interest and commitment to repeatedly explore, experience and get addicted to the joy of learning.
Relating to life
The most abstruse and perplexing subjects will come to life only when it is related to life and the world around us and great teachers help us see the connection. Bad teachers tune us off from the subject by failing to establish those connections and leave us cursing the subject throughout our life as “ boring “ or one that “I don’t have an aptitude for.”
The very best teachers besides being very good teachers remain committed to the primacy of the learner and the learning process and is therefore selfless in a way with not much regard for the arc light or cheap popularity. This is probably the most difficult part to be a great teacher but such teachers can never be substituted by any technology. It’s very difficult to define but can be best summed up in the words of Amos Bronson Alcott, the American teacher, writer and philosopher : “The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple.”
We’ve all had great teachers so let’s hope we have even better teachers in the years to come and while technology grows and enriches our leaves, future generations will continue to have the benefit of some wonderful teachers helping them embark and go along on the journey of learning,