What makes the art of teaching so difficult and excellent teaching so challenging - what may make what we have written seem so unreasonable-is not that one or two of the elements of teaching are called upon at all times in the classroom but that ideally all of them must be employed not singly or in pairs but all at once. Although the constituent elements of teaching can be distinguished in order to understand them better and to articulate some principles for their use, they are separable only for the purposes of understanding them. They are neither separable nor separate in fact. They join within each individual teacher as a manifestation of the teacher's identity. Medical students must study human anatomy one organ at a time, so that as experienced doctors diagnosing a patient's ailment they can make simultaneous use of their entire knowledge of physiology to treat that patient effectively. Similarly with teachers: as students of the art of teaching, they must examine each of its aspects one by one, but when they are teaching they must summon every quality of character, mind, and spirit they possess in order to accomplish their mission.
This effort requires a repeated extension of self equaled by few other callings. Teachers must bring the whole self, not simply learning, compassion, or imagination, to their work.
All of us who have taught know that everything we put into our instruction is drawn from our own engagement with the world. The wonders and satisfactions of teaching result from our ongoing ability to call up our knowledge of life from our own inner store of understanding for the good of those we are trying to teach. The elements of teaching are thus no more than many of the elements of humanity that we all possess, and teachers are simply those who seek to make manifest what they know of humanity through their teaching. To ask them to explore the particular constituents of teaching is but to ask them to consider the inner resources they possess as human beings. In some respects, therefore, our analysis of teaching has been nothing more than an attempt to clarify the components of this extraordinary gift of self which teachers make every working day.
Teaching is made no easier by the paradox that although it does not take place in isolation, it is nevertheless a solitary act. In this regard it differs from many other human activities and professions. Though usually at work in the company of their students, teachers work alone in repeatedly bringing to bear every resource of knowledge, energy, and invention they possess not for their own good but to intensify their students' engagement with life through increasing their understanding of it.
Though in doing so teachers are almost always part of a community of teachers in a school or university, they usually work apart from one another, each facing different groups of students of different minds and interests who are addressing different subjects.
If this book holds any value, perhaps it can help reduce some of the inherent isolation of teachers. Perhaps through talk, practice, observation, reading, and thought about the elements of teaching of which we have written, experienced and aspiring teachers will begin together and communally to consider the qualities of mind and spirit that constitute their everyday efforts. As teachers, we are not and probably never will be schooled in these qualities, nor trained in their application. But we can increase our awareness of them by examining them with others who are engaged in the same endeavors.
For while teaching is characteristically lonely, self-denying, exhausting work for individual teachers, its aims, components, and responsibilities are collaborative and consistent. Each teacher shares with every other the goals of shaping the characters of their students and helping them acquire the ability to fill their own minds. Each teacher strives to embody with every other teacher the elements that compose their teaching, and they bear the mutual obligation to protect the welfare of all their students. Each teacher shares a stake with every student's other teachers-including those who have preceded and those who will follow them-in the outcome of each student's learning. It follows that no single teacher can justifiably emphasize a single skill or quality to the exclusion of others. All teachers are responsible for teaching certain things in common and for attempting to do so with the same effort.
It is in these ways, therefore, that teaching is profoundly collegial and communal as well as solitary. A paradox? Not really. The subject may be history or biology, but the goals are the same: to awaken and develop the skills of observation, argument, and analysis; to teach accurate writing and speaking and careful reading; and to instill special qualities of mind and character- all while teaching a particular subject. And so, although the act of teaching may be, in its actions and effects, solitary, it is part of a collaborative effort; it carries with it shared obligations toward each student; its mutual elements carry with them mutual responsibilities. Teachers may not recognize this, and may not discuss it often, but this mutuality of ends and obligations- the universality of the elements of teaching-connects all teachers in a worldwide community of work and thought.
That community, of course, includes students. Mutuality characterizes the interests and responsibilities of students and teachers as much as it does the relationship between teachers.
The relationship between teachers and students is reciprocal in a way not often acknowledged, for the elements of teaching that we have discussed here are the very same qualities that teachers hope to create in their students. This is why teachers must exemplify in their words and behavior, as well as in their lessons, the traits of mind and character they wish to instill in others. When successful, they are able to draw from their students the stimulus and strength to maintain their own standards of teaching.
In this way, teaching is a sharing of experience; and in the act of sharing, teachers are themselves enriched and emboldened to persevere. Certainly their concern for their students makes them anticipate the future with more hope than despair, with an optimism that is enviable and that ought to be contagious. It is their optimism, after all, that nourishes their students as they rise to the challenge that great teaching offers them.
So when we say that the relationship between teacher and student is a reciprocal one, we mean that teaching is like a game of tennis: you need at least two players, one on each side of the net, and both engaged, to keep the ball in play.
In this book we have tried to describe the teacher's side of this engagement, the human qualities in teachers that encourage this active reciprocity. How students conduct themselves in order to make the best use of their teachers' gifts is a nice question- one, perhaps, for another book entirely. Or it may simply be left to the imagination of those who have read this one with, we hope, both pleasure and gain.