Talking teaching today. TTT, cool.
I’ve been thinking about this one in my free time recently, because there’s a critique I have of the vast majority of educators in that they teach student’s what to think rather than how to think – but that didn’t seem quite right to me either.
The problem with teaching how to think is that it tends to introduce the variable that the teacher may be looking at reality and education from a particular angle, so how you think can be taught in such a way that you decide to omit specific aspects instead of taking the whole context in. In other words, you drop context to fit a specific method of thought.
So both how and what aren’t really the way to go about what makes a good teacher good and a bad teacher bad, it’s not really all that precise.
What does it mean to be a good teacher then?
Well, as always, let’s start with what not to be, which I think is pretty easy – at least for me.
Poor teaching teaches you how and what to think – in other words, your method of seeing the world becomes corrupted by the educators epistemological viewpoint. For example, if an educator sees the world as all about floaty definitions, nothing is real, wishy washy you can’t know anything nonsense, then anything goes – that fundamental perspective corrupts, from the very root, your approach to thought and understanding of reality. If you think nothing is real, then you can omit convenient facts that you don’t like, regardless of whether they are there or not. The fact of something being the way it is becomes an obstacle for you, because it blocks and contradicts how you’re seeing the world. So if a teacher who believes in this crap – let’s call him Espannuel Brant – teaches you, then you’re going to start looking for the truth through the filter of a fundamentally fucked mindset. Brant is an asshole that fucks your brain up.
On the other hand, teaching someone that there is one right way to everything and instructing how to live is also somewhat problematic. It’s not because the educator is necessarily wrong – on the contrary, it’s important to at some point trust your teachers wisdom. The problem is that it leaves no room for making mistakes and understanding how and why things are correct.
It comes down to living life based off the conclusions that others have discovered. Is this important? It depends. If an electrician tells you that you shouldn’t stick a fork in a power socket because you will be revoked of your living license – aka it fucking kills you – then I think it’s definitely a good idea to follow that advice, because the error is fundamentally life or death in the very real and direct sense. It’s also common sense and if you don’t think the socket is real because you love Brant, you’re an idiot. But I digress.
That’s an OK education – but that’s not a great education. People are different and they have different values, so you can’t live according to the values of others and expect to be radiantly happy – maybe competent, content and surviving, but not super happy. You can be influenced by others and that is by no means a bad thing, but emulation is a problem because it tends to forget about what is important to you (notice how everything revolves around you and your values?).
Finally, there are teachers who use teaching as a form of proselytizing. These aren’t teachers, they are ideologues that deify a certain belief, and spread it to others as a means to push forward said belief. Whether it be with contrarian actions, bullying of students, shaming specific opinions and ideas, etc – fuck these people, and they are the primary reason why teaching as a profession has gone to shit in the West. These people need to be called out and exposed for who they are, especially if they’re teaching your kids.
So let’s think about great teaching then, and I think it has much to do with teaching a student how to trust and see.
Now what does that mean? Trust is a broad term and can refer to many things. I don’t refer to trusting me as a teacher, but rather trusting you and your senses, hence the see part.
A great teacher will give you the freedom to validate facts with your observations and thought, and answer questions with clarity and respect to your mistakes. I know a lot about teaching English as an example, and I know tons of different methods and tricks on how to get students to understand things – but fundamentally I always respect, correct and explain the mistakes. I never, ever give the impression that I am in some way intellectually superior. I have knowledge and experience, and dare say I am quite wise, but I am not intellectually superior – on the contrary, some of my students understand some grammar better than I do. English is a pain.
My students are, and always will be, just as capable as I am at grasping language and understanding reality. They only need but learn to trust their senses, their observations, correct their mistakes, understand that making mistakes is necessary to understand, and grow from there.
What’s in front of them is what they get, and that’s where they start the process. Great teaching understands this and allows students to understand that, too. Learning to trust what their senses provide is the first step to understanding how reality works, because if you can’t fundamentally trust what you see, then you’re going to just doubt things from the get go and irrevocably corrupt your process of learning. Doubt is useful, but it needs to be used in the right circumstance – but not with your senses. Some would bring up the argument that optical illusions disprove the claim that we shouldn’t doubt what we see, but that is an absurd argument that negates the fact that what we see is what we get, and what we infer from what we see starts from there – and that is how we understand why optical illusions do the things they do. We didn’t learn how gravity works because we started with an equation, we learned because we saw things happen.
And that is what a great teacher needs to teach – that students need to trust their senses first. What they see is what they get, and the rest follows from there. You must trust that, and from there understanding can follow, and even potentially correction of teachers errors too.
Thinking is very hard, but it becomes significantly easier when you learn to trust your senses and mind. You no longer doubt your capability, because you understand that what you’re still seeing is what is real, it’s just that you made a mistake in the process of understanding it conceptually.
So, good teaching is not about what or how to think – but how to trust and see. From there, everything else follows. Teachers foster that in a student and give their senses the respect they deserve, guiding them through conceptual errors, answering questions and engaging in rich dialogue.
It’s a rarity these days, but sometimes, you get teachers like this – and it’s something I work hard to be in ESL. Cherish them.