The Inner Soul of Teaching
Everybody seems to think of teaching as teaching something. Usually, theres a subject. There is a syllabus. Usually there is also some kind of timeframe. The teacher is supposed to impart a certain body of knowledge in a certain period of time to a certain group of people.
Teach is derived from Old English and means to impart knowledge or skill. Its intricately bound up with the word learn, for after all, has anyone actually taught anything if no one has learned anything?
Everyone knows that people learn something in exactly the time it takes them to learn it, no matter how hard somebody is trying to pour it into their heads. In fact, most people stubbornly refuse to learn certain things for many years, or perhaps, forever.
How often have you learned something, but it wasnt what you thought you were going to learn, or even what you wanted to learn? But it turned out to be what you really needed to learn.
Everybody knows there are different kinds of students. There's the Eager Beaver student whos always got the answer. Their hand is up, up, up, and they say Oooh, oooh, oooh! to get the teachers attention, wanting so badly to be called on. They have a need to be recognized.
Then theres the slacker, who appears to barely be dressed, lolling at his desk, twiddling with something, falling asleep. He has a different need (to be independent?) And there are the kids writing notes to one another, and the ones staring out the window and the people who appear to be attentive, but have the wrong book open in front of them. They all have different needs.
Learning something is about attention. Nobody learns anything when their attention isnt on it. In fact, the only way anyone CAN learn anything is to be fully attentive to it. Why wouldnt your attention be on something youre supposed to be learning? The list of reasons is long.
For example, theres a really good chance youre daydreaming. You assign part of yourself to appear to be paying attention. Hardly a scenario for effective learning. Maybe youre very worried or fearful about something, or youre thinking about something you didnt do or something you forgot. Maybe its really windy and you cant concentrate or you really have to go to the bathroom. You could be hungry or sleepy. Maybe your attention is on someone in the room who youre lusting after or are jealous of. Focusing can be really challenging
The marvelous human machine was created to be both divergent, which means able to see the big picture, or able to take it all in at once and make sense of it, and also to be convergent, which means able to focus strongly on whats immediately in front of you. But human beings just arent hard wired for the volume of modern day sensory input, and many people are in sensory overload much of the time. This can make them tired, and often people let down when they get in a classroom situation.
Research has shown that there are different kinds of learners; visual, auditory and kinesthetic. Many people have ADD or ADHD and cant focus even if they want to. And everyone is in a different stage of rebellion against having to focus their attention somewhere.
So, theres a possibility that learning is really about the ability to focus your attention. If so, whats the real job of a good teacher? Clearly, to provide a way for very different individual students in different places in their lives and with different learning styles to focus. How could you, as the teacher, ever know how to do this?
This is what I call the Inner Soul of Teaching. Its about looking, seeing, feeling or sensing deeply into each student to perceive what their ability is to focus in that moment. Its also about perceiving what their needs are in that moment and speaking to those needs. Its not about imparting all of the information thats supposed to be imparted.
When you use your perception in this way to know where another person is, you can speak to that deep place in them and they hear it. People arent used to being listened to in this way, but it catches their attention. Teacher training sometimes includes how to teach to all the different learning styles, some of which are very different from your own. As a teacher, you learn to use all kinds of tricks to catch peoples attention. When you deeply sense whats going on in a person, its not hard to know how to hook into them.
You can intersperse addressing the entire group with having direct, personal interactions with individuals. Behave in unexpected ways. Become a master at switching gears. Vary the pitch and tone of your voice. Use unusual body movements on purpose. Gesticulate. Use your innate theatrical abilities. When possible, invite assistance in engineering unexpected interruptions from other teachers. Provide training in focusing attention.
Use techniques that involve students visually, auditorially and kinesthetically. When you get them up and moving, theyll record the learning experience in their bodies as well as their minds, and theyll remember it. Treat each student as though theyre the unique and wonderful person they are and let them feel your awe about what they bring to the world.
When you have embodied these qualities as a teacher, you can teach anywhere, to anybody. However, you may actually find that those you teach actually learn something more important than the subject of the class. Then youre truly participating in the Inner Soul of Teaching.