In a recent essay about the author Bobbie Ann Mason, writer George Saunders reveals a secret about great writers that also applies to great teachers. He writes, “The best writers—writers like Mason—steer not by convention, or a desire to teach us something or export some worldview, but by this inner sense of preference, in a spirit of exploration, asking, through the enactment of a highly personal artistic method: What is it, after all, that I believe?” This approach to writing amounts to a spiritual practice of discovering the truth of our being.
The same is true of teaching. What Saunders says about fiction, “at its best, is not mere depiction, but effects a change upon the reader so as to prepare her for more enlightened living in the world,” is also true of teaching. What happens between teacher and student, as well as between parent and child, between intimates and colleagues, at its best involves changes that bring “more enlightened living in the world.” But we can never know what enlightened living looks like to another person, what sort of transformations are needed to awaken them to other possibilities for living. Our best strategies involve honesty with ourselves, exploring the depths of our own curiosities and delights, and crafting conditions for others to pursue their own explorations and discoveries.
Teaching needs to focus on student learning, but we fool ourselves in believing we know what students need to learn. We are better off to concentrate on what we need to learn, and allow the students to determine their own journey. At its best, teaching creates possibilities for reciprocal growth and transformations that awaken everyone involved in ways that change the world.
[Daily post 027 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨