“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit. “
What is the art of teaching??
In the children’s book of the Three Questions, a retelling of the original story by Leo Tolstoy, a young boy is on a quest to find the answers to these three questions:
- When is the best time to do things?
- Who is the most important one?
- What is the right thing to do?
As Nikolai goes off to meet with the wise old tortoise to find the answers to his questions he discovers that when he is not searching for the answers, he actually finds them. He rescues a mother panda bear and her baby from a terrible storm as the tortoise looks on and observes the boys actions.
Nikolai is still disappointed at the end of this ordeal because he is frustrated that he has not been given the answers. The tortoise wisely tells him that his questions were answered through his actions. He ends the story reminding the boy.
“Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side. For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world. This is why we are here.”
This is why we are here and this is why I love to teach in a workshop because this kind of teaching and learning requires us all to be present. These are the essential questions that matter in my teaching in the moment, an essential part of the “art” of teaching. Keeping true to this art of teaching requires careful listening, intuition and improvisation on the part of every person in the workshop; most importantly, the teacher. There is no guidebook to where you can check off what you are going to do because the truth is that you don’t know what you are going to teach until you are in that moment with that child. Terry Moher, in her work on conferring refers to this as “teaching not knowing.”
One problem is that there is so much noise and distraction in schools right now . I would love for every person, administrator, parent, citizen and politician to go and just shadow a teacher for a day. Yes, one whole day so that they can see first hand just what is being asked of teachers. So much of what is deemed necessary is done so by others, it has become more about justifying every action, each student, their numbers, their percentages, their scores and less about “who” that student is and what is is they might need.
The distractions away from the simplicity of teaching our students are more numerous than you can even imagine. There is a hurried frenzy that seems to buzz through so many schools. Lost is the feeling of nurturing, slowness and taking each moment at a time. Disappearing from early childhood classrooms are blocks, dress-up centers, imaginative play areas, sand tables and any element of play. Teachers are more frazzled and students, if they buy in to this system, are as well. The pressure to perform is on and yet…to what end?
When I model lessons in classrooms one of the most common responses is, “that was great, BUT, I don’t have that kind of time to allow kids to think things through.”. I would argue that we don’t have time NOT to let them think!! And in this I believe that we all must make choices and for me it is as simple as asking myself and grounding my teaching in these 3 questions, When is the most important time? Now. Who is the most important one? The one I am with. And what is the right thing to do? It is to do good for the one at my side. What if we just made it that simple? What if that was at the very CORE of what we were doing in all of our schools with all of our kids?
More time to simplify. Less time to justify.
It just simply makes sense to me.