The Art of Teaching: A Student's Perspective
The education system followed in our country is not without flaws. The current mode of online teaching is causing further setbacks to it, by replacing teachers in classrooms with virtual screens at home. In this article, we try to see how, in the face of all these adversities, a teacher may yet retain his significance in the life of the student.
Things have changed.
We no longer sit in a classroom and watch our professors flutter about, trying their best to convey their thoughts and conceptualizations to us. We now hear voices through the microphone, coupled with a pre-recorded video or a digitalized slideshow, often stripping our teachers of all their larger-than-life qualities and turning them into the pale imitations of a robot.
The question looms large over our thoughts: If all that they do in lieu of teaching can be reproduced by a mechanistic setup like a YouTube video, has not the teacher lost purpose? Does not their existence disintegrate to meaninglessness? Is there nothing we gain by their presence which this video cannot give us?
The purpose of this article will be to show how the role of the teacher can yet retain a sense of importance, and to untangle it from the robotic descriptions it has been conflated with.
We ask ourselves, then: What is the role of a teacher? What is a teacher supposed to do?
Is it only to make us capable of solving a set of assignments? Is it only to make us be able to score highly in assessments? And worst of all, is it only to throw onto us a collection of data for us to memorize? To them who assent to this and believe that this encompasses the entirety of the teacher's task, their professors would have long ago ceased to have any value to them; a YouTube video can replace their presence and existence entirely for them.
There has been an internalisation within both us as well as, regrettably, some of our teachers, of an obsession for the tangible benefits of learning. But none among us would be happy with leaving our professors with a job description so very shallow.
Let us, then, try and indicate what it is that lies in the void between a YouTube video and an actual class—and perhaps this may also show us what it is that the teacher's task ought to be.
My most memorable, perspective-shaping teachers from my school days are not the ones who increased my database of facts. They are the ones who, as their very description suggests, touched upon and changed my very style of thinking; the ones who gave me fresh perspectives regarding a given problem, and by extension, the very world itself: In a word, the ones who introduced me to a new paradigm. A new world.
The true teacher in the classroom is one who has immersed themself into the role to the fullest extent, akin to a painter flourishing art upon the canvas or a writer creating a text upon the sheet. They see the world as a true artist does: The same way every stroke of the painter and every punctuation mark of the writer is pregnant with connotation, it is every gesture by them , every dart of his eyeballs, that is loaded with a certain undefinable content.
Our minds are the canvas; the physical presence of the teacher is the paintbrush; teaching is the art.
The larger-than-life presence of the teacher in front of our eyes is, for us, the only way by which we may reap the benefit of their art. And this phenomenal aura is precisely what is lost upon condensing it down to a YouTube video: We no longer feel the force of their words; no longer sense their accompanying body movements as a real presence. The mode of expression is lost.
A paradigm, by virtue of its intangibility, is precisely that which can only be communicated nonverbally. A paradigm shift is what fills up the gap between a blind man's notion of the colour ‘red’ and its “actual” meaning. And ultimately, it is what lies in the void between a YouTube video and an actual class.
Of course, it may yet happen that a teacher is so unbelievably skilled a practitioner that even with this pre-recorded fatality, this digital restriction, they are able to convey a certain style of thinking and questioning, a mode of being, to their students.
But we now see that this artist must dramatically modify the manner in which they expresses their art—it can no longer be with their bodily presence. They may now have to rely on animations and other digital features in order to impute a paradigm onto their students; the choice of the medium lies wholly with the artist. While we acknowledge that, we must also account for the restrictive nature of the medium, since many of our artists in question may not be well-versed with the current day technology.
To sum it up, then: The ultimate duty of the teacher is to impress upon us a way of looking at things, give us an altogether fresh tempo in our thoughts and refurbish the perspectives we adopt to behold the world and its problems. These are the intangible things which no examination can assess; and yet, this is what the ultimate aim of the professor should be.
The psyche of a student must include, in addition to their own, the perspectives of all teachers they have learned from — the combined wisdom of all those minds synthesizing a cognizance that views everything from a holistic perspective.
The role of a teacher is to make sure that their student, faced with a problem, never fails to consider what they would've done had they been in the student's position.
And this is, in turn, precisely what the machine lacks the ability to do—simply by virtue of the fact that it is a machine—and shadowing this statement are all the arguments asserting why a machine can never become a true artist.
To achieve this, we must enable our instructors by handing them their artist's toolbox, telling them what works and what doesn't; and they must reciprocate by exercising their creative energies and taking the art of teaching to its highest note.
Happy teacher's day to these artists: May they paint their masterpieces upon us!
Aditya Dwarkesh is a second-year undergraduate student pursuing the integrated BS-MS degree at IISER Kolkata and an editor of Cogito137. He has a long-standing interest in literature, philosophy and physics.
We would also like to acknowledge the contributions of Rushikesh Sunil Mukhare, from DBS, IISER Kolkata, who has provided a notable part of the core ideas expressed in this article.
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