Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Art of Teaching

The great misunderstanding in the education enterprise usually leads to the separation of teaching and learning. Most of contemporary educators would just vote learning as the central focus of education as opposed to the so called traditional education which focuses more on teaching. No wonder, that in recent years much effort has been dedicated to the research to understand learning rather than teaching. In this postmodern age, teaching is being sidelined with too much criticism added to it. Nevertheless, no matter how eager educators try to throw away teaching out of the equation, they still unconsciously employ teaching to argue for the centrality of learning in education.

Gabriel Moran pointed out that teaching is to show how. And since life is the goal of all education, thus the ultimate understanding of teaching, then, according to Moran, is to show how to live. It was Nicholas Wolterstorff that reminded educators that talking about life is not something we can take for granted. Whenever we think of life we need to be careful of what kind of life that we are referring to. Therefore, Wolterstorff’s advice to clarify what kind of life that we are talking about is extremely crucial. In my estimation, whenever we teach life, our teaching can’t be separated from our perspectives of what life is or how such life is to be lived. In other words, we cannot deny the insertion of teachers’ personal life whenever teaching about life. Moreover, it is neither truthful nor honest to claim that our teaching is truly objective without any trace of subjectivity in it. Therefore, it is not too much to say that when we are teaching about life, we are teaching about how we live such life. This is the sole reason why teachers should be those that are noble, true, righteous, or integrated. All of the good qualities we can name in this world should be possessed by a teacher. God through James said that “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).

The art of teaching lies heavily on the character of the teacher. This is the secret of teaching. This is why teachers should reflect deeply upon their characters before teaching, or before taking up the role as teachers. Another implication for this secret of teaching is that one teacher is different from the other, as one student is different from the other. That is why teaching is an art. Teaching is not mechanical. Each teacher’s uniqueness should be carried on and explored instead of being suppressed by what we usually call as teaching method, how much more if we refer only to a specific kind of teaching method, such as lecture. It was Paulo Freire that broadened the understanding of teaching in our modern world. He criticized the usual way of teaching via lecture, of which he called as the banking education. The old way of teaching is merely depositing information to the head of the students. Teaching is much bigger than just depositing information. Remember, that teaching is about showing how to live.

How then can we master the art of teaching? Actually, it is simple. Since the art of teaching lies heavily upon the character of the teacher, then mastering the art of teaching is by learning to live accordingly as we are taught by our predecessors. That is why Jesus was angry at the Pharisees and the Teachers of the law, because they only deposited information and gave orders without they themselves learning how to really live out what they were teaching (Matthew 23:4 and Luke 11:46). If we call ourselves teachers, then we ought to watch out how we live. There is no shortcut for this matter. The only path teachers can take to master the art of teaching is by learning the life they are about to teach. It is the narrow path. Would you walk through it?

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