November 2, 2010

The Law of the Teacher

"A reading from Homer" By Lawerence Alma Tadema

“The teacher must know of that which he would teach”

To know is the central part of this first Law of teaching. Mr. Gregory points out that there are four different levels of knowing:

1) We May know a fact as merely to recognize it when another tells it.
2) We may know it in such degree as to be able to recall it for ourselves; or to describe it in a general way.
3) Better still, we may so know it that we can readily explain, prove, and illustrate it;
4) Mounting to the highest grade of knowledge, we may so know and vividly see a truth in itsdeeper significance and wider relations that its importance, grandeur, or beauty impresses and inspires us.
Pg 35

As teachers we want to aim to know something vividly, to see a truth in such a way as to be inspired by it so we can communicate that to our students (#4). In this way we are teaching with a "full mind". The full mind is capable of allowing the student freedom because we already know the territory of the subject. We can encourage questions and guide exploration because we know where we are where we can go. We are a trusted and knowledgble guide to the student.

Mr. Gregory says this:
“While knowledge thus thoroughly and familiarly known rouses into higher action all the powers of the teacher, it also gives him the unfettered command and use of those powers. Instead of the hurry and worry of one who has to glean from the textbook each moment the answers to the questions he has asked, he who knows his lesson as he ought is at home, on familiar ground, and can watch at ease the efforts of his class and direct with certainty the current of their thoughts. He is ready to recognize and interpret their first faint glimpses of the truth, to remove the obstacles from their path, and to aide and encourage their struggling search by the skillful hint which flashes a half-revealing light into the too thick darkness…..A teacher’s ready and evident knowledge helps to give the pupil needed confidence. We follow with eager expectation and delight the guide who shows thorough knowledge of the field we wish to explore, but we drag reluctantly and without interest after an ignorant and incompetent leader.” Pg 39-40

Ok, so this is where I am really getting sweaty palms. I know what it is like to be taught by a fumbling unconfident and unprepared teacher, or worse yet one who is unprepared but blows out high sounding words or tells me answers I know are not true, it is awful. I surely do not want to be a teacher my kids don’t trust or don’t respect. But this is a tall order considering the other things I have to get done today….how will I fulfill this law?

Tom Spencer says this in the accompanying teacher’s guide to this little book:
“As you go through this workbook, you will notice that I have presented lessons in a different order from Mr. Gregory. I have arranged the lessons with a mind towards importance and ease of application….I’ve purposely left the law of the teacher to the very end of this workbook. The difficulty with this law is that one may quickly discern the importance and necessity of the law but it may take several years to comply with it. Once you begin teaching you can not remedy this situation over night. If you find yourself knowing less than you ought to…get to work. However be both patient and realistic. Remember that Gregory said that it was an ideal;

“This chapter discusses the splendid ideal which no except the great teacher ever fully realized, but which every true teacher must more or less nearly approach.”

So resolve that you will know more the next year.”

It is nice to know that it may take a while to get my life around this little nugget and that the most important thing is to simply make more progress in having a fuller mind and little by little I may find myself being ahead.

Here are some ideas for getting more prepared to teach with a full mind: (paraphrased from pg 42-44)

1) Prepare each lesson with fresh study and far enough ahead of time you have time to mull it over and find props and organize activities to enhance your lesson.

2) Look for analogies and likeness in the lesson that can be linked to familiar ideas.

3) Study the lesson until its thoughts take shape in familiar language. The final proof and product of clear thought is clear speech….can you retell it in your own words?

4) Find the natural order and connection of the facts and truths. Go from the simplest idea to the more complex idea. Draw diagrams to map it out.

5) Make it practical for the student….how does it apply to their life, how does it apply to yours and share it with them.

6) Learn the lesson so that it is crystal clear in your own mind.

7) Look at the lesson from many angles, but master at least one. Better to know one thing well than many which are still unclear.

8) Set aside time in the day for preparation of the lesson. If possible well in advance for the mind keeps working on it.

9) Get the help of books, online resources, and experts to set your mind a working.

10) Buy books a year ahead of time so you can be reading books ahead. Or buy books at your reading level and read along with your kids.

11) Talk your lesson over with an intelligent friend or write it all out in a notebook.

“The nib of the pen digs deep into the mines of truth. Expressing thought often clears it of its dross and obscurities.” Pg 44

Remember to take your time learning this. The best gift you give your kids each day is YOU! So let’s grow slowly and with grace trusting God for his wisdom each day. (and the time for new things)

All quotes are from The Seven Laws of Teaching By John Milton Gregory a free online version of this book can be found here.

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