POST TIME: 14 June, 2018 00:00 00 AM
The art of teaching
A good teacher knows when to lead and guide — to get you walking in a new direction, and then when to gently get out of the way
Hisham M Nazer

The art of teaching

Teaching is an inherent quality. We must know that regardless of how hard we try, no matter how many methods we employ, we cannot teach, but what we can do is inspire the students so that they might find interest in pursuing the deeper meanings of things that today are mere titles in the syllabi.

Now how to grow that interest in the students is a question that can never be satisfactorily answered since individuals have their distinctive traits and, to say metaphorically, one shining gold key cannot open all the locks. If teaching is an art, then we need to be artists who can paint their thoughts, make their lessons lively like music and maintain a dancing rhythm between what is learnt and what is to be delivered; artists who can enchant and enliven the “learner” which is archetypically existent within everyone but often remains latent, waiting for the right stimulus.

As a teacher, the more clear you yourself are about the topic, the faster the students understand, because if you can see what you know, you can show that to your students instead of trying miserably to pass ideas that are essentially vague. But, translating an idea that you once managed to understand is almost impossible since we know it is not viable to detail and demonstrate one’s own learning process.

What you can do is: be scientific about it, or be Cartesian if possible, by not pushing the students beyond their abilities, rather by nurturing what they have got and broadening the periphery of their knowledge. In a class, lowering the level of your thought to that of the students is one way of dealing with the whole classroom chemistry thing; in fact that is an easy way that does not demand much “quality” from the teacher’s end.

Another more elaborate and sophisticated way is being “charismatic.” Exploit the students’ attention with your erudition and verbal power, with your ability to relate and create an orchestra of ideas, and design an atmosphere where learning becomes an enjoyment, not in an artificial and superimposed environment but in one effortlessly occasioned. And just then when the magic is done, slowly lift them up towards your own intellectual level and show them the height that they can reach surpassing you.

Moreover, if teachers can have leadership qualities within them, they can surely move students with what they know. But, if showmanship is there alone without knowledge and if knowledge is there alone without the showmanship, there will be no outcome and a class will just be a waste of time.

It is hard to lay down a definite road map which someone can take in order to be a charismatic, inspiring teacher but it is not impossible.  Rigorous exposure to classical arts (music, painting, literature, dancing) can groom the spirit into becoming something extraordinary. This training in the arts will also benefit him spiritually since the target of beauty is always the soul—the inner I—which determines what kind of person I shall become. And that “person” is more important than any “social identity” (in this case a “teacher”), who, when carefully nurtured, can only contribute well to the society in large.

This question of social responsibility of a teacher comes naturally, because the task of a teacher does not end inside the four walls of a class, rather his responsibility lies in creating good “humans”. He will uphold values, he will enliven the discoverers, he will nurture talents, and he will help the students to become good “humans!” One might teach textbook lessons to his students and do just that, but a teacher must remember that it is “life” he should prepare his students for.  And to do that we teachers have to be good humans first, who are accessible, flexible, open to criticism and can take matters in a simple way without complicating things with individual ego. Arts, I believe, will help one to be sensitive and sensible, and if anyone can be “creative” himself, there is no doubt as a human his “learning” is complete.

Now with this personality and spiritual consciousness, a teacher will remain ethically obligated and true to his values. Any deviation from his part will be difficult since his refined conscience and his sensibility will never allow him to commit anything that is beyond his professional and individual ethics. He will be more caring and sensitive towards his students and his teaching will be more effective because of the simple fact that art means subtlety and the discovering of beauty in the details. His artistic nature (does not mean he himself has to be a practicing artist) will enable him to relate a thing with others and see the mosaic of reality from a viewpoint that only an artist can achieve.

A three months’ or a year’s training cannot ensure this personal stature, rather in young age one should be introduced to the arts, not because one day he has to become a good teacher, but simply because with such exposure he can become a human with a natural bent towards beauty and truth. This kind of early training also helps one to discover the spiritual side of him, which later helps him to connect with people (because in spirituality the oneness is all) which in fact is also very much necessary in teaching.

We must connect with the students on a human level first; we must touch that human core that craves to connect with other humans, for this simple reason that students, before being a group of individuals pursuing “enlightenment”, are humans too, with real “human” joy, pain and dreams. Let us hold their hands with love (love that sadly does not sound so “academic”), let us inspire them with our own personalities and achievements, let us give them a world we idealize and sometimes fantasize in a classroom, and if we can teach them the simplicity of life, our task as teachers is complete.

The writer is Lecturer

Department of English

Varendra University