The Genius of Teaching
We are all pushed and pulled around by our environments. Mainly pulled.
That’s because our attention is attracted, almost magnetically, by the presence, or rather the absence, of certain things around us. We are drawn along by the power of missing things - missing money, missing love, missing entertainment, and so forth. As adults, we learn to ‘manage’ the situation; we grow to know that some things deserve more attention than other things. But we still get distracted.
Imagine what it is like for a child. Children, not having the experiential knowledge to determine quickly what is worthy of attention, place it on the next thing that claims it, moving rapidly from one thing to another. One of the reasons why children engage in the activity we take for granted as ‘play’ is that playing is when they can themselves have some power of determination over what attracts their attention. It must be a relief.
But even there, one toy is attractive for a while, then another draws the child in, then another activity comes along - one thing after another, usually at a fast pace. By the time he or she has reached what our society decides is ‘schooling age’, the child has normally developed some kind of control over the attention-scooping devices in the environment, but not much. Anything which promises exciting unknowns - newly-wrapped parcels, games, treasure hunts, stories, sports - motivate the young person to action. They want to find out what is ‘inside’, what is the outcome, what is the secret, what is the ending of things.
And then we send them to school, where they are given a block of data and a set of skills and simply expected to absorb and apply both, whether or not their attention is actively drawn to these things. The skill of a teacher, really, is the way in which a neutral or even negative activity is cloaked or shaped to be exciting and attractive. At first, in engaging with young children, it can seem that they are almost completely unaware of what they require. Your task as a teacher is not only to isolate their needs and then meet them, but to propose or create further needs that they didn’t know they had, and then fill them too.
This divides into developing the necessary communication channels so that you can effectively and economically find out what children want, and then delivering what they want effectively and economically. But you also have to present the world to them in the forms of need, otherwise you will simply not grasp their attention enough and educating them will become the uphill struggle that we see in so many of today’s schools.
At first glance, any subject that you are trying to teach has a number of neutral features, i.e. characteristics that do not seem to be capable of attracting attention on their own. But a genius teacher finds out how to turn even the most boringly neutral aspect of learning into an exciting game.
Turning apparently neutral elements of any part of education into something packed with thrilling features is a sign of true genius in teaching.
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