“I have been given a pile of bricks,” I jotted down this summer as I was reviewing the new state standards to which the curriculum needs to be aligned, “and instructed to cover up a window.” I sighed, and then wrote next to it: “I will have to turn the bricks onto their sides and make an arch out of them, so there is some hope of light coming through.”
“And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God?
This article is part three in a series of reflections on what The Confessions of Saint Augustine has to say to modern educators.
Every pianist has been told at some point that the secret to beautiful performance is staying relaxed. This does not mean working less hard. It means working only the muscles that are supposed to be working while eliminating tension everywhere else. Relaxation is an important piano technique because it makes an incredible difference in the sound the instrument produces. Much of a piano is made of wood, a living material, which responds to slight differences in touch. This is a beautiful metaphor for teaching and learning.
“And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.”
Our era is dismantling millennia of incarnated memories with increasing fervor and speed—“old” books are considered irrelevant, so much so that it can be difficult to find classics in local libraries or school curricula; monuments and artistic creations, some of which have withstood the ravages of decades, if not centuries, are toppled in the name of social progress; beautifully crafted belongings, once meaningful heirlooms, are jettisoned in favor of the newest machine-made decorating fads and end up in dusty thrift shops.
As the beginning of another school year looms in front of us, and as I attempt to align enough ducks to guard against any irreparable meltdowns during the first several weeks of class, I find myself, yet again, thinking more about the broad teleological nature of this work rather than some of the specifics of my lesson plans. Surely the former informs the latter, but perhaps there is a degree to which I should shut down the armchair philosophizing long enough to tighten a few practical nuts and bolts.
It is often said in the teaching profession that the first year is the hardest and the second is far easier: You have a better idea of what you are doing, of what is expected, and of how to deal with students. As I reflect on the school year thus far, however, I realize that I am learning just as much, if not more, than I did last year. Perhaps the fear and unknown of Year One no longer exists, but I am still a brand new teacher. Here are a few musings from this school year.
1. To teach is to name.
In a previous article, “Why Do You Teach,” I wrote about teachers pursuing the good of their students. Drawing an analogy between friendship and teaching (as Aristotle did between friendship and governance), I wrote:
For the good of the other, that is the answer to our question. Or is it? What does that even mean? In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explains what friendship is. Perhaps understanding friendship might help us to understand the relationship between teacher and student, even if the relationship between a teacher and his student is not one we might typically describe as a friendship.
For Aristotle, that student of Plato and therefore Socrates, there are three kinds of friendship: a friendship of utility, a friendship of pleasure, and pure friendship.