What is the first law of teaching, and the last? I think it is that you have to try to make them want what you’re trying to give them. There are many other things, specially when it come to actually giving what you give, but at the moment I think this is the one that draws the line between a good and a bad teacher. The teacher that made me want the thing, was good, the one that failed was not destined to succeed at teaching much. And I think that if you don’t realize this, you are bound to be bad as a teacher. A student who doesn’t need you to do that, who wants it already, will learn from you, and you can stick around in some disciplines and subjects. And bad teachers take it for granted that that’s the student’s responsibility, because who can reach into anothers heart? And they’re partly right, but no enought. I think you’re on the way to being far more successful of a teacher if you know you have to try to make them want what you’re trying to give them.

Of course there are the ethics of it, which makes me think of advertising–though perhaps that’s too much of a mix. Advertising is like evangelicalism, opportunistic about its means. It knows you have to want whatever you’re going to get, and it goes about it in the quickest way. But a teacher cannot be opportunistic. Opportunism is not wisdom, and at least teaching ought to be on the side of wisdom. Opportunism is a kind of insight about means, but without the corresponding insight of the ends. And there are ways of wanting, some of which get at the thing, some of which handle it a little while and then lose the grip of true lasting interest. Some ways of wanting are only about the subject that wants, and do not nourish in that subject a desire that corresponds to the object, but only a transitory and desultory wanting that is continually vitiated, and requires endless change or deeper perversion.

Where there is no real cultivation of proper desire, who stands to gain, really?


7 thoughts on “Teaching

  1. Would it help if you could bring yourself to master some simpler works rather than just the standard repertoire? Bach 2-part inventions, some Beethoven bagatelles, or some Grieg Lyric Pieces?

  2. Thanks for the interesting post. I’m curious, how do you think teachers can be opportunistic? By trying to ‘convert’ students to their way of seeing the world? It can often be such a thankless job, that it’s hard to imagine someone sticking with it as a means to an end. I heard a related quote the other day: “students don’t care about how much you know, they care about how much you care.” Do you think this is true?

    1. You know, that’s a good question. What I have in mind are quick benefits, rather than the glimpse of a place they will come to if they journey over the rugged mountains. If you can’t by the magical arts of teaching suggest the intangible benefits, you come up with something unrelated the student can immediately grasp. The reward, for example, for paying attention is that you can learn. It is such a worthwhile thing, and the younger you get that the better. Shouldn’t our teachers try? The reward for knowing Latin is the possession of something valuable that can yield joy and wisdom and insight and music, and a key to so many connected things, not only from the ancient past, but in Western Civilization. But it requires skill to make them begin to grasp these things.

      Keep in mind: I do have small classes, I do have really good kids (they say thank-you as they leave the classroom), and I don’t have a lot of experience. I’m not even an advanced student of Latin myself. One has to blog about something!

      I do think it is important how much you care. At least as a student one can tell when the teacher doesn’t, and it makes a difference.

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