Two sides of teaching

yin yang

There are two types of teachers in the world (two types of adults, really, but teachers works for what I want to say), those who want to participate in the education of their students, who want to help them investigate the topics at hand, to guide them along the way, and those who want to belittle their students, to make sure those students know who is in charge and take great delight when their students fail to overcome those teacher’s own unfair machinations. 

For my part, I’ve never understood that second type. Not when I was a student and not now, as a teacher myself. I try to explain to my students that the only reason I’m standing in front of them is that I know more about this particular subject at this particular time and so I’m just there to answer questions and walk with them along the path. But I’ve seen teachers who delight in watching their students squirm when faced with an examination for which they were given no preparation and tested on material not covered in class. Here, the student literally must teach themselves, at which point, why even bother having teachers?

When students are exempted from the requirement to attend class itself, the teacher then puts all the information up on some sort of internet site and in class, merely reads from those self same powerpoint slides. That’s not teaching. My first year teaching in Lithuania, second semester, I had a 4th year student, who was set to graduate at the end of that semester, ask me a question on the first day of class (American Culture):

“What can I learn from you that I can’t get from a book or a video?”

“Nothing,” I replied. “Except I can give you personal insight, humorous anecdotes, and the opportunity to ask questions for clarification. I can make sure you understand the concepts before moving on to the next.”

The student nodded and sat down, and for the rest of the semester, became an engaged, inquisitive pupil. They’ve now gone on to do cool things and are living an interesting life. I regularly get emails and notes from former students, telling my of their successes an thanking me for the help or encouragement I provided. Even students I don’t remember, they remember me because I took time to make sure they understood something or to help them out of a jam or just listened when they needed someone to talk to. To me, that’s teaching. More than that, it’s living. Because to extrapolate from this, it means, to me, if you can help someone along the way, you should do it. ‘Cause honestly, the other way isn’t sustainable at all.

As a side note – here’s an interesting article about Teller talking about teaching.

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