19 August 2017

A teacher is an authoritative guide


I've done a spot of travelling in my time, but the most enjoyable trips I've made, the ones which have enriched me the most, have been those trips where I've had a knowledgeable guide. I've had a tour of the Vatican. I've been shown round Florence. I was even guided around Israel for a couple of weeks by a pastor and theologian from Nazareth. What a lot I learned!

He took us to the crusader Church of Saint Anne at Bethesda where we sang a hymn, because, he told us, the acoustics are superb. (They are. We drew a decent crowd. Of nuns.) We learnt the comic-tragic tale of the Immovable Ladder. We heard the account of the siege at Masada and saw the astonishing earthen ramp built by the Roman army there. We walked the Via Dolorosa, gazed up at Golgotha, visited the garden tomb, drank Arabic coffee by the roadside in Nazareth, ate fish at the Sea of Galilee, peered over the Mount Precipice.

Yep, still there.
As we went I had questions. A lot of questions. (I'm that sort.) He suffered them all - with good grace - until I could think of nothing more to ask. I had questions about theology, geography, climate, conflict. And his answers were meaningful and joined up, they were authoritative. He knew what he was talking about.

Who better to be led by than a native, or someone with extensive grasp of the culture and mores of that particular locale? His authoritative knowledge and my trust in that authoritative knowledge, came together and consequently I learned a great deal.

If you're a teacher, you are an authoritative guide.

Do you see? The subject you teach is a kingdom, a wide country full of wonder. And you are a native of that land, one who has trodden those paths, who knows the beauty of those shores, whose love for the place is irrepressible and deeply ingrained: it is part of who you are. You are one who has been lost and confused many times during your own wanderings in that landscape, but you have found your way again, always emerging with new insights. You know where the potholes, the pitfalls and the dead-ends are. You know where to linger for the best views. You may not have exhausted the richness of this kingdom, but your vast knowledge means you are equipped to be an authoritative guide.

You have the knowledge to lead scores of newcomers - your students, of course - through the highways and byways of each little settlement, pointing out how to move from one place to another, where these roads lead, and what are the landmarks along the way. 'Notice this thing here; look how those things relate.' You might stop a while at this place, or that, but always with purpose and always knowing how far and how long until the next stop. And your charges might ask you 'where does that path lead?', or 'who first found this place?', or 'what mean these stones?', but you will have an answer that is true and trustworthy.

But you can only do this if you know the lay of the land, if you're intimately familiar with that kingdom, with that domain.

I will teach Anatomy and Physiology this year, and I intend to lead the students first of all into the valley of bones that is the Skeletal System. Then we'll march around the mighty monuments of the Muscular System, putting flesh onto the bones of our understanding. We will travel along the arterial routes of the Cardiovascular System to the Respiratory System where we'll study some inspirational architecture. Finally, fatigued, we'll climb to survey the whole integrated scene from the breathtaking heights of Energy Systems hill. I expect from prior experience we'll have to tarry here a while.

If you're a teacher, you are an authoritative guide.

Subject knowledge is not just important, it is crucial. You cannot teach effectively without it. But you also need to know how the domain looks (and feels) as a whole if you're going to map a way through it for your students. Trying to do otherwise is simply the blind leading the blind. And you know what happens to them.

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