It could have been yesterday, or it could have been at age five—when and what was your most memorable learning experience? Wherever I talk with groups interested in education, the how and why of education, I always rely on this question and individual responses to head the conversation in a positive and productive direction.
Here’s the point to hold fast: Whatever your peak learning moment, it is that very exhilaration that you want to give your student—whether it’s literature, art, tennis, trombone, theology, fishing, or math. It need not be “formal education” within the walls of a classroom—perhaps it was your grandfather inviting you into the constellations through a telescope or your aunt letting you knead dough with her for a peach pie. Or maybe it was the piano teacher hitting just the right note to catch your ear or the carpenter helping you trace the grain of the wood as it became a bench. What did the teacher do, exactly? Where's the magic? Pass it on.
It does not matter what the subject matter may be, the art of good teaching hits the essence of the word education at its heart. The root of education is to “lead up, to lead out,” teacher and student moving from a darker to a brighter understanding. A spark catches and does not dim. When the participants recall favorite learning incidents, their sheer joy in relating to the group what transpired is contagious. And the lesson is clear. Whatever happened for you—is precisely what you want for your pupil(s). This exercise in remembering simplifies all the questions and worries we have about how to teach. Teach so that the learning never stops and the memory never fades. Make education irresistible. Make it matter.
I remember walking into physical chemistry class in college, startled by the Beethoven symphony, written out by hand, that ringed the room on all four sides. All semester the professor brought the world alive to the rhythm of those musical notes. The world sang. I’ve never forgotten it. I couldn’t get enough of the class I had postponed as long as possible. And the teacher's fiery imagination, love for his subject, and seductive invitation to student delight—remains what I try to give. And the world still sings, classically and soulfully.
How about you? What lesson learned will stay with you always? What happened? Why is it so memorable?
There’s your teacher’s guide!
Marietta McCarty is the author of Little Big Minds: Sharing Philosophy With Kids and How Philosophy Can Save Your Life: 10 Ideas That Matter Most.