It takes two to tango

September.18. 2011

This is a continuation of my previous post, and expands on one of the points I raised in that post.

In a perfect world, learning occurs when a teacher imparts knowledge and a student receives that knowledge.

That’s all there is to it.

For years, this was the unwritten contract between teacher and student.

And teachers were especially wary of students who were not ready for instructions.

Martial arts lore is replete with stories of masters who would not accept students until they knew the student was ready.

I read about a martial arts teacher in Beijing who made a student exercise every day with him for three years (at a distance) before he would accept him as a student.

The great piano pedagogue Leschetitzky almost made Paderewski jump off a second story building to test his sincerity and eagerness to learn before he would accept him as a student.

But we live in a very imperfect world.

Being a teacher these days means many other things.

Now, we’re expected to become cheerleader, counselor, entertainer, babysitter, magician, parent, mentor, on top of our duties as ‘teacher.’

And the minute we assume the teacher mantle, we also become miracle workers – we’re expected to make students learn, no matter what.

And if students show no interest in learning, it’s our fault.

If they don’t do their homework, it’s our fault.

If they have low test scores, it’s our fault.

In other words, we teachers are one hundred percent guilty of any failings in the student’s education.

The student is blameless, the parents are blameless. The student bears no responsibility towards his own learning. The parents bear no responsibility towards their children’s education.

I’m not sure how and when this shift in perception of the teacher’s duties took place.

But suddenly we’re not just charged with imparting knowledge, we’re also charged with changing mindsets, we’re charged with making student receptive to our teaching.

And this is the crux of the problem.

That’s really not our job description.

That’s the parent’s job. That’s the parent’s responsibility.

It’s the job of parents to show an active interest in their child’s education, to make sure that homework is done, to provide a good learning environment at home, to encourage them, motivate them, fire up their ambitions.

In other words, it’s the job of parents to mentor their own children and make them receptive to learning.

If parents do this and step up to their responsibilities as parents, I guarantee test scores will go up across the board.

This is not rocket science, it’s just common sense.

Here’s a little anecdotal example from my own experience.

I went to school in a third world country. Classroom size was, on the average, 40 students per class.

And I remember some of the teachers were not the most enthusiastic and inspiring of teachers.

There was the science teacher whose idea of teaching was to copy endless notes on the chalkboard and we had to copy them down by hand. During tests, we had to memorize all these notes and regurgitate them.

There was the history teacher whose idea of teaching was to read from the textbook. He was so lazy, he didn’t even bother to read the book himself. Instead he would get one student after another to read it for him.

Not the most inspiring of situations. No fancy teaching techniques, no smart boards.

Just teacher, student, textbook, and chalkboard.

But did we learn?

As one famous politician is fond of saying, you betcha!

Because we were all fired up to learn. Yes, we still clowned around in class, but when the time came for testing and exams, we all knew we had to get serious.

The secret was expectations. Expectations from parents mostly.

If you didn’t do well, the shame you experience was enough to force you to study harder the next time. I remember having to show my ‘report card’ to my parents every term end. If the test scores were bad, it was more a matter of personal shame than any reprimand you could get from them.

Modern educators might shudder at the description I just gave.

But the proof is in the pudding.

Where are all these extremely ‘disadvantaged’ students now? Flung all across the globe, from New Zealand to Australia to Malaysia to Canada to the USA.

Engineers, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, accountants, bankers, teachers, real estate developers, and yes, even a guitar professor in South Texas.

As I wrote earlier, teaching is a two way street.

For the transfer of knowledge to take place, the teacher must be willing and able to impart knowledge and the student to receive it.

And if the student is ready and receptive, learning will take place, even under the most adverse conditions.

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