An educator’s job is to safely and appropriately challenge students to achieve. This is done for the purpose of helping each student learn how to capably and responsibly make decisions on his or her own. The best example of my philosophy of education is found in the structure of classical Japanese martial arts schools.
In this context, degrees of responsibility determine whose job is what. Novice students have the responsibility to arrive clean, clear-headed, and ready to practice. More experienced students have the responsibility to ensure that the novices do not hurt themselves and that they are provided with a good example of the teacher’s instruction. The instructor has the responsibility to ensure the safety and the proper training of all those in his or her charge without developing an inflated ego that would cause his or her own learning to stagnate. Finally, each person in the school, novice or veteran, has a responsibility to him or herself to be open to new learning. It is important to note that nowhere in this model is the concept of power. No person ought to have power over any other. Rather, greater experience grants a person only a greater degree of responsibility.
I see the school teacher’s job much like the head instructor’s. This person is the most experienced person in the room. This person has a passion for the subject being taught and, ideally, has spent a considerable portion of his or her life dedicated to the pursuit of it. He or she must be sensitive to the fact that not all students will approach the subject in the same way, and must use this sensitivity to teach the subject to every student with an equal amount of passion. When a student struggles with a concept, this person has the responsibility to explain in a different way and to avoid expressing frustration that the concept is difficult for the student.
This person is also responsible for the ambiance of the learning environment. He or she must make certain that disruptions to the learning of all students are kept to a minimum, and must have routines or discipline in place for when unforeseen circumstances interfere with the flow of the lesson. This person has the responsibility to plan and prepare lessons that are various, interesting, challenging, thought-provoking, and meaningful. Without this ambiance, students will rightly feel alienated from the subject and will become disruptive to ease their boredom and dissatisfaction.
I see the student’s job much like that of the novice. This person may be one of the least experienced people in the room, but that should never be mistaken by the student OR the teacher for lack of capability. Rather, the student has the responsibility to ensure that the content, skills, and values he or she needs to achieve his or her goals are being taught in ways that they comprehend. Students must be made to feel safe to make minor mistakes along the way to their mastery of the subject in question. Only then can the student progress to another level of experience and, therefore, responsibility.
The complex relationship that is established between the students and their teacher is driven by this set of interrelated responsibilities. With that in mind, everyone in the classroom knows that he or she will do better if everyone else is doing well too.