Most teachers forget that
teaching is an art.
Trained in the science and techniques of education, professional teachers are conscientious in applying the psychology and methods that they have learned. They may not call what they are trying to do “teaching” and may prefer instead such terms as explanation, instruction, demonstration, guidance, or simply setting a good example. Yet even those who have enjoyed first-class professional preparation, when summoned to instruct, guide, and inform those entrusted to them, are faced with one of the greatest, because earliest, challenges of teaching: They must improve as best as they can.
And they rarely get it right the first time. Only after much repetition, some nervous invention, occasional losses of temper, and general frustration, do their own process of learning lurch forward. Then they lick their wounds, and, perhaps wondering why they were ever wiling to try to teach anyone anything in the first place, they gradually perfect their art. Some teachers, whether professional or amateur, may never manage to get it right; some may fail to teach anyone anything important at all. Even those many of us who teach more or less effectively are often overwhelmed by justifiable concern for our lesson plans and their implementation, by getting our students through our courses, and by negotiating the politics and administrative obligations that seem inherent in any calling as hundred with responsibilities as teaching. Consequently, we often simply fail to give sustained and collegial thought to teaching’s boarder components.
This may be because we prepare for our calling by learning
the subjects we will teach and the methods by which we will
teach them. And there is nothing wrong with that. Yet rarely,
if ever, are we led to reflect on those dimensions of character and mind that are at the very core of what we do-which is to help others acquire both the knowledge by which they can understand life in all its fullness and the dispositions by which they can live such a life. These dimensions of our own selves constitute the core of our teaching;
when we teach, we animate inert knowledge with qualities of our own personality and spirit that affect, or ought to affect, our students. Nevertheless, though these qualities differ from subjects and techniques, we rarely consider these aspects of our selves separately; rarely do we take them to be distinct from the hows and whats of instruction, which, extrinsic to ourselves and usually taught to us as we prepare to teach others, do not arise from within.
The basic elements of teaching, by contrast, are qualities that come to inhere in us, even if we do not recognize them as such or fully develop them. Rarely can they be taught. They are ingredients of our own humanity, to which contents and methods are adjunct. We must draw them from ourselves, identify, develop, and then apply them. We may know our subjects and perfect our techniques for teaching them without recognizing that, for our mastery to make a difference to our students, we must also summon from within certain qualities of personality that have little to do with subject matter or theories of instruction. We don't learn these qualities, we call them forth-and, by understanding them, we use them for the benefit of others.
While pedagogical expertise and technical knowledge are essential to it ultimately teaching is a creative act;
1.it makes something fresh from existing knowledge in spontaneous, improvised efforts of mind and spirit, disciplined by education and experience.Thus, unlike a technology, in which correct application produces ~redictablea nd uniform results,
2.teaching yields infinite surprises - infinite delights - from one moment to the next. What method can supply to teaching we know or can learn; what art can furnish out of our own selves we must imagine- and then practice.
So while we cannot predict the outcome of teaching from its
ingredients, we can isolate these ingredients, much as we can
those of any art, in order to examine and understand them. What ground, medium, color, form, and implements are to the visual arts, so certain constituents-learning, authority, ethics, order. imagination, compassion, patience, character, and pleasureare to teaching. Just as all artists learn, know, select, and employ varieties of each of the constituent elements of their craft in creating their distinct works, so
teachers use the components of their own art to teach in ways as distinctive as each teacher is unique. For this reason, teaching has always defied strict and agreed-upon definition. We think we know great teaching when we encounter it, yet we find it impossible to say precisely what has gone into making it great.
We generally suppose that great artists are aware of what
they are doing, of how the materials they use create the effect they strive to achieve. We imagine that they are calling forth qualities in themselves to fashion something that has never been seen or heard before. Similarly, all teachers draw upon what they are and what they know when they try to advance the knowledge of their students. While teaching shares some of the attributes of science-its necessary components can be identified, some of its good results can be repeated, discoveries about it can be built upon-it is intrinsically an imaginative synthesis. It is the making of something new out of barely organized components.
Its aim, especially with young students, is to fill and enlarge the character and spirit, as well as the mind, of others. And like every art, it is composed of acts of faith-endeavors of hope that our efforts to extend knowledge in others will somehow "take" with them.
Teachers differ from artists, however, in that they are rarely invited, as they pursue their calling, to think about what they are and what they know of themselves, although some of them eventually find ways to do so. For most teachers, consideration of the elements that make up their daily work-the ingredients out of which they compose their art-forms part neither of their professional preparation nor of their subsequent continuing education.
And teachers at all levels spend very little professional time discussing these matters with colleagues.
This is a serious loss to teachers and, more critically, to their students. For if teachers are trustees of their students' welfare, they must consider not just why they are teaching and how, but also with what. That is to say,
they must know what their acts exemplify, what qualities of life and character they themselves embody, as they try to convey knowledge to others.
These qualities of life and character constitute teaching wherever it takes place, not just in classrooms. What applies to teaching there applies equally to teaching in the wider world outside-to all of those who teach anything to anyone. It is nevertheless in classrooms that teaching is meant to be sustained and continuous. It is from teaching there that so many teachers draw most of their income; it is there that they satisfy their consuming professional engagement and guard the welfare of others, mostly younger and more vulnerable than themselves. The elements of teaching are employed with greater concentration and embodied with greater consequence in classrooms than anywhere else.
The qualities of character and mind desirable in all teachers are not, however, handed to us like the Ten Commandments; neither their number nor their nature is fixed in stone. Yet some of those qualities are more important in teaching than others. Without these central qualities, any act of teaching is incomplete. One can no more teach without learning, imagination, and compassion than one can be a cleric without faith or a sculptor without vision. But even more, the main elements of teaching do not exist merely as components of the art of teaching; they also convey what they embody-such as order, patience, and character-directly to others by the very fact of what they are. Teachers are ethical not only because the trusteeship role of instruction requires it;
1.teachers are ethical so that their students can learn how to be ethical, too.
2.Teachers exhibit pleasure in the classroom not only to enhance learning but also to exhibit to their students the delight that comes with acquiring and using knowledge.
The principal elements of teaching are therefore ways of
transmitting certain desirable qualities of human character, as well as knowledge, to students. Because teachers are responsible for passing on to others many positive human traits through their embodiment of them, teaching is not for the fainthearted, nor for those who consider it just a means of diffusing knowledge. It requires a fullness of self, braced by consciousness of the effect each teacher has or ought to have on students, and this breadth of character is demanded of few, if any, other callings. While learning requires much effort, teaching entails an even greater one because it is more laden with moral and human responsibilities.
Yet despite its difficulties, as we know from countless experiences of our own, both as students and as instructors, teachers attain extraordinary victories over ignorance each day. How does this happen? Occasionally by virtue of nature's gifts. But more often it comes about from practice over time.
One does not start out teaching in possession of all the fully developed qualities of a fine teacher. With experience and self-knowledge, however, these qualities grow and ripen; and after having felt intimidated by the demands of teaching and often discouraged by the dimensions and responsibilities of the work, one can come close to mastering its challenges and become a teacher in the fullest sense of the word.
Thus although what follows alludes frequently to the demands of teaching and emphasizes why teaching is so deeply freighted with moral responsibilities, it should also suggest why teaching can be so exhilarating and its successes are such great achievements of human endeavor.