There are times when I utterly fail as a teacher. I can't find the words I need to explain the step-by-step means to solving a division problem. I look up to see JudyLucy and David looking at me, waiting patiently, and I feel so inadequate. The potential before me is so much greater than my ability to meet it. I know that I will only have their attention a few more moments before they get bored with my stammering failure.
The children themselves taught me how to triumph in my weakness.
“Show me,” David said. “Just do it.”
So I worked the division problem myself. I edited a document on the computer while they watched. I did a reading lesson with Seric while David observed my manner with him. I made butter with the cow cream while JudyLucy stood beside me taking mental notes.
Where I fail, my students often succeed despite me. Their ability to observe me “doing” the lesson is often greater than my own ability to instruct them.
In college I had a teacher who taught two classes: choir and English. The man was brilliant at teaching music! I remember him holding a sheet of music and walking past the choir saying, “Bass section sing this… alto section sing this… tenors sing this… and sopranos sing this… ”
Without pause he sang one part after another. He taught us to observe our own pitch by standing, facing a corner, and singing our part into the corner so that the sound bounced back into our own ears. If anyone had trouble with a part, the choir director would stand behind the student and sing the part along with the student. I loved choir even though it was time consuming and over-crowded.
He also taught English class. Although he knew the subject matter quite well, he had no idea how to actually teach it. During the first class he quickly diagrammed a sentence on the white board and said briefly, “That's how you diagram a sentence… and uh… yeah. So, diagram sentences. And that's all you're supposed to learn today. Any questions? So… I guess I'll read Dave Barry aloud.”
I realize now that he taught by demonstration, allowing the student to observe him or to observe the music, and once he'd demonstrated he was done. In music, this worked really well for both the teacher and the student, but in English class it fell flat for most students. This teacher was very obliging and quick to answer any questions by demonstrating how again and again, but most students did not know how to “get instruction.” They needed it to be given to them.
If I had needed it, I could have asked that instructor to diagram more sentences for me on the board. I could have asked him to demonstrate how he recognized the parts of speech, and to show me the difference between them by writing them on the board. He would have been glad to do this.
Solomon instructs the reader of Proverbs to “get wisdom; and with all thy getting, get understanding.”
Sometimes the instruction you need is not easily found. Sometimes you have to go out and get it. Teachers are just other students (or not; let the student beware) who have their own weaknesses and inabilities.
My English and choir instructor was a brilliant teacher in one form. But he needed me, the student, to engage him and actively extract from him the information I needed in English class. I do not fault him, because I see (in retrospect) that he was a student by observation himself, and that it was this very gift that made him so good at music.
There are “instructors” out there in every subject of life, whether they be degreed or not.
My grandfather, DaddyBill, never went to electrician school but he was a great electrician and kept a small subdivision of houses functioning for years. When my younger brother wanted to learn how to run electricity in a house he went to ask my DaddyBill to teach him. DaddyBill didn't know what to say; he didn't have the words. He gave my brother a big, worn-out book on the subject and took my brother with him to run electricity in a house.
My brother stood by and watched as DaddyBill touched a live wire to his tongue to see if it had current or not. He had worked with electricity for so long he could no longer tell if a wire was live or not with his hands; he had to touch it to his tongue. He advised my little brother not to do this, and showed him how to use a voltage meter to check the wires.
Watching DaddyBill run electricity in a house was an education you could never get at a trade school because it was completely void of code and red tape. But without trade school education, DaddyBill could never have run electricity in a house that did not belong to him and so was limited.
Everyone has something to teach, whether they are officially a teacher or not. The parts and pieces of your education may be a good recipe, a trade, or even a method of acquiring information. You, as the student, can go out and get your education if you are able to observe your teacher. If you are attending a university and find one class more difficult than another, then take some time to stop and observe your teacher and discover who he is and how to access his knowledge.
I know that even in writing this book, I will fail to get across some of the ideas I want so much to communicate. But if you, the reader, can observe me through these stories, maybe you can get from me that which you need.