Book Review: The Elements of Teaching

(I originally wrote this in preparation for my MOE interviews)

I loved the fact that the book’s first chapter was on learning. It echoes very much how I feel about teaching. There is a tendency for people to imply that teaching is the stage after learning – a misconception that they are two separate processes and one is only fit to teach after he or she has successfully learnt. While I believe that the mastery of one’s subject should be one of the most important requirements for teachers, I do beg to differ on the fact that learning and teaching cannot occur simultaneously. In my own experience and in the stories of other teachers in my social circle, they seem to be two processes running concurrently, alongside each other with similar intensities. The more passionate the teacher is, it is also highly likely that the teacher is a fierce and dedicated learner – not just solely about his or her subject but to master the art of communicating, delivering and transmitting knowledge in an infectious way that energizes and benefits its recipients. If I may humbly draw a closer link between teaching and learning, it would be that the enthusiasm to learn sets alight the passion for sharing the fun and knowledge and thrilling sense of discovery with others, or one might also call it ‘teaching’. The first chapter not only affirmed my hunger to learn but also inspired me to learn even more fiercely in the pursuit of the art of teaching.

 

I started jotting down points for this reflection piece when I was halfway through the book and with the intention to focus on certain book chapters. I was drawn to the chapters of ‘Authority’ and ‘Ethics’ as mentioned in the book – the need for consistency and the need to set a living, walking example of the very virtues and values we wish to impart and how that earns teachers authority in the classroom and beyond, and right in the heart of students. I felt assured by the chapter of ‘Character’, which talks about how we ought to embrace our own natural personalities and simply be authentic and ‘real’ both in and out of the classroom, rather than assume a personality we admire but have no disposition to. As I read on, I felt charged and moved to do more and to give more to those I mentor. Interestingly, I choose to dedicate my next paragraph to reflecting about the book’s afterword.

 

The afterword addresses what the authors felt might be running through the minds of their readers. One particular thought shouted out to me –

 

‘If some conclude that we have taken teaching too seriously, others may think us naïve in believing, even hoping, that teachers will try to adopt the principles we have offered here. Do we ask too much?’

(Page 135)

 

This stirred up so many emotions within me. I truly empathize where the author was coming from because when I share my experiences, thoughts and efforts in teaching, people sometimes dismiss me or question if I am ‘doing too much’. As the book’s next sentence says ‘We think not.’ My soul celebrates knowing that I am not alone, I am free to indulge in my perfectionist pursuit of teaching standards, and I have so much more to aspire to. I am certain that the pursuit will be tough but also immensely rewarding. May the rewards not just be my own, but belong also to those I teach.