THOSE WHO HAVE READ what we have written about the constituent elements of teaching may be wondering by now whether achieving these standards is not beyond the reach of all but the rarest paragon. How can different teachers in a school or college classroom under differing conditions of instruction embody the qualities of character, heart, and mind that we have considered? How can those who teach without being formally employed to do so -as parents, say, or as physicians or scout leaders-summon these qualities in the normal course of their lives? And how can these elements be brought into some balance and the tensions often existing between them be resolved? How, for instance, can a teacher be empathetic and engaged, as called for by compassion, while being dispassionate, as often called for by ethics? Perhaps no one who teaches can be and do more than a fraction of what we have described as constituting teaching, and perhaps we are unreasonable in thinking, even hoping, that they can.
In fact, after reading what we have to say, readers may wonder why anyone would want to become or remain a teacher when the claims and responsibilities of being one are so many, so immediate, so urgent, and so weighty. Those who teach do so because they have known teaching's magical attraction to the spirit, to say nothing of the ego, and have known as students the lengths to which some teachers will go to help others, like themselves, to learn. They know that to convey to others the knowledge of any subject and to do so effectively are two of life's greatest joys.
Yet, as we must acknowledge,
it is much easier to talk or write about teaching than it is actually to teach. The aspects of teaching that we have examined in this book are ideals-ends always to be sought if only rarely gained, their pursuit one of life's most difficult tasks.
Those who have never taught probably cannot fully imagine the demands on energy, patience, and will imposed by classroom work.It is exacting labor, often lacking clear and tangible results and requiring teachers to begin all over again what they have already tried to do; and it has been made ever more demanding today by the trying social conditions that all too frequently challenge teachers and their students. We have therefore tried to make this book not so much an exploration of fixed truths or axioms as part of an open-ended exchange, among all of us who teach, about what we exemplify, do, convey, try to achieve, and struggle with every day, whether we are aware of it or not. In effect, we have tried to offer a better understanding of what teachers work at all their lives.
Some readers may have sensed in what we have written a certain gravity and earnestness about our subject, grounded in the conviction that teaching is a special occupation with special requirements and responsibilities. In that, they are right, because we believe teaching to be among the most serious and accountable activities of life, whose pursuit confers more moral and intellectual obligations on teachers than rights. It is a kind of civic office, whose occupants stand in for the human community and are expected to discharge certain agreed-upon responsibilities with special care.
Teaching is also the gift of one person to another. It is a compassionate extension of self in acknowledgment of the needs and aspirations of someone else, usually but not always younger than we are and always, for a time at least, dependent on us for some kind of knowledge. In that gift of self consists teaching's greatest satisfaction-the giving not so much of knowledge, which each person must acquire, as of habits of mind and heart and powers of thought.
If some conclude that we have taken teaching too seriously, others may think us naive in believing, even hoping, that teachers will try to adopt the principles we have offered here.
Do we ask too much? We think not. Because all teachers have been students, we are confident that most readers will recognize in what we have written the echoes of their own experiences, that they will recollect what it was like when they began to be students who at first found schoolwork and classroom assignments neither easy nor natural, and that they will therefore acknowledge that our depictions of the elements of teaching are applicable to their own lives. Many, perhaps most, teachers have taken up teaching because of the rich pleasures and satisfactions of their own youthful schooling; yet probably too seldom do they ask themselves what it was about their most favored and beloved teachers- among them no doubt parents, friends, and colleagues as well as classroom instructors-that so enriched their lives. In writing this book, we have tried to recall our own best teachers and thus to understand their great and special gifts. What we have written is in part our heartfelt tribute to them.
Our subject- the elements of teaching-has had to do with attitude, behavior, aspiration, and substance more than with means; our concerns have been with approaches, stances, and assumptions rather than with methods.
This is not because we think techniques and ways of teaching are unimportant-precisely and emphatically the opposite. Instead, we have considered the qualities of character, bearing, and knowledge essential to teaching because we believe that very little attention has been paid to them in the literature of education. While there is no "one way" to teach, taken together the qualities of which we have written make up what good, sometimes great, teaching is. Neither, of course, do the qualities about which we have written exhaust the subject. In writing about what we believe to be the principal elements of teaching, we have not meant to detract from those other elements that we have not selected for emphasis. We have discussed or implied many of them-such as devotion, industry, honesty, courage, and spirit-along the way and hope that we have not forgotten any.
The gulf between the ideals represented by the elements of teaching considered in this book and the everyday practices of teachers may seem wide. But we do not believe that it is as wide as sometimes appears. We say this out of confidence in teachers' aspirations and out of our own experiences in the classroom. To be sure, few who have taught will deny that teaching can be fiendishly difficult and draining; those who have not taught in any sustained and continuous fashion are unlikely to know its exactions, its requisitions on one's inner resources, any more than they are likely to know its joys and satisfactions; and those who taught only in the past will probably not often have experienced the challenges that face instructors in the schools today. Few other human activities require of their practitioners so much in application, awareness, and energy that must be maintained from day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. Just getting the job done moderately well each day requires all that many teachers can bring to the task. Readers may therefore conclude that we are unrealistic in hoping that anyone can meet the high expectations we have written about or that our ideals have led us to overlook the conditions of the contemporary classroom; few people, perhaps none, they may say, can possess and employ all the qualities that we have explored and tried to illustrate in these pages. They will protest, moreover, that identifying standards is always easier than attaining them.
And yet it would be a serious mistake to presume that these standards are beyond the reach of most teachers, even when the challenges they face are taken into account; to do so, we believe, would be to misjudge the everyday practice of teaching and the routine achievements of so many teachers. For every act of teaching employs and exemplifies, either well or badly, one or more of the principal components of instruction of which we have written;
all teaching is made up of some of these elements in some combination. Even without recognizing them, anyone who seeks to convey knowledge of any kind to another person is putting them into practice. What teachers must not be, we are certain, and what most are not, is indifferent to any one of these elements, any more than they can be indifferent to the minds and characters of each student they teach. Thus to distinguish and discuss each one of these elements is a necessary precondition to mastering the art of teaching but surely not an invitation to despair of possessing any single one of them or of all of them together.