Saturday, January 9, 2016

Why We Teach

To those caught up in the chaos that is the beginning of a new year and a new semester, some thoughts that may help you remember why teaching, and teachers (you especially), are so important.  The words are taken from a recent Chronicle of Higher Education essay by A.C. Grayling, professor of philosophy at the New College of the Humanities, London.  The essay is part of Grayling’s new book The Challenge of Things.
Good teachers … inspire, guide, and give their students a broader sense of life’s possibilities. Aristotle thought that teachers are more important than parents because whereas parents (merely, he said) give their children life, teachers give them the art of living.

[T]here is even more in the educational process that cannot be taught, only caught; and the chief of what a good teacher can achieve… is to give students the desire to know more, understand more, achieve greater insight. In short: The good teacher inspires.

If one were to analyze what goes into being an inspiring teacher…the list would include enthusiasm, charisma, a capacity to clarify and make sense, humor, kindness, and a genuine interest in students’ progress.

Almost everyone can point to a teacher…who was inspirational and helpful.… It is an amazingly potentiating thing to have someone believe in you; whether they are right to do so because they recognize a genuine capacity in you to succeed, or whether their attitude is itself the prompt to acquire such a capacity, is neither here nor there. It has the right outcome either way.

Students’ questions and doubts compel one to think and rethink, often prompting one to see things that had not been noticed before. For this reason it is never boring to teach the same subject repeatedly. Like rereading the classics, or revisiting familiar places, new insights always offer themselves, and better ways of doing things with them.

Education is for all aspects of life…. If education is this important, and if education starts with teachers, then teachers are this important too. True, we can learn from others, from nature, from books — all these things might teach us more, and more deeply. But at crucial junctures education needs teachers; the better they are, the more fruitful will be all the other forms of education that life affords.

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