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The Art of Teaching
       A century ago, teaching was done in a regimented fashion to prepare students to work in the factory. Few people now enter that type of profession and their education should reflect that change. Unfortunately, too often such is not the case. As Albert Einstein said: “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” In reality, students need to meet a different set of goals. They need to learn to think, to be able to read and interpret, to be creative and to develop on open mind. In short, they need an education that prepares them for the modern world.
       It is easy to recognize flaws that occur in too many classrooms and schools. No one should simply be teaching with the goal for students to do well on a set of tests. Students should not have a goal of merely memorizing and spitting back facts. Instead, the actual goal should be understanding concepts and learning how to use and apply them. Sir Alec Clegg noted this about six decades ago when he said that “(t)he object of teaching is not so much to convey knowledge as it is to excite a determination in the child to acquire it for himself, and to teach him how to go about acquiring it.” A century earlier, Louis Agassiz had noted “If I succeed in teaching you how to observe, my aim will be attained.”
       Teachers cannot all teach one way. No single shoe fits everyone. They need to match the needs of the students, the community in which they live and the professions they will be entering in the future. Teaching is an art. It requires individuality on the part of the teacher and on the part of each student. This is complex, but it is a goal for which each teacher should strive. As Isocrates said in Antidosis over 1600 years ago, “teachers are involved in the process of molding souls, a goal that cannot be achieved quickly.”
       Students need to want to learn. Demonstrations, activities and thoughts to catch their heart and interest should be used. The bottom line is that teachers must invest their hearts. They must care for the students. If such is the case, the students will sense it and that will go far in achieving the desired environment that will benefit the students. It is similarly important to communicate openly and actively with parents. Working together, they are more likely to motivate and direct the effort of any student. In 1995, Richard Riley, the U.S. Secretary of Education, said: “The beginning place of a child’s education is a parent’s expectations of a child’s ability. A child not expected to learn doesn’t learn well.”
       All too often, the general public forgets that teachers only see students for a fraction of their time. Using simplified math, recognize that students spend only half of a year’s days in school and only about a quarter of those day are spent in academic classroom (discounting lunch, enrichment, etc.), This means that 7/8 of their time is spent out of the classroom. In middle schools and high schools, only about 1/6 of the school day is in any one teacher’s room. That’s only a bit over 2% of the year! Parents want their children to get individual help, but if there are 24 students in a class, it is a miracle that teachers can have an influence on individual students, yet they do, fighting all the forces and influences outside of the classroom, including the home environment and what has occurred (or not occurred) prior to entering the classroom setting!
       Teaching is one of the most important, influential professions, yet not enough money is invested in it. Our government – on the federal, state and local levels – somehow keeps coming up with excuses for cutting back educational funding. Considering the impact education has on our future, this is actually criminal. To quote Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”
       Fortunately for the students, teachers don’t select this profession for the pay. It is a calling. Knowing the concepts that need to be taught is not sufficient. Teachers need to know how to present it so students can learn it. The bottom line is that good teachers care about their students. To repeat a line used in Trader Joe’s: “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.”
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