The Good Teacher and the Good Pupil
For the last two hundred years or more there has been a growing realization that the teacher should be child-centred and should help the child's innate potential to blossom fully. Learner-centred teaching is being advanced in progressive schools all over the world.
Indeed, if we examine the examples of good teachers of the past or of the present, we shall find that they have always been learner-oriented: and good pupils have blossomed like lovely flowers when tended with care, love and understanding or even when left to themselves with interventions from teachers when necessary.
A good teacher is always a help in the pupil's pursuit of accomplishment and perfection. For the pupil, the important things are his own enthusiasm and personal effort that can sustain patient and persistent work towards growth and progress. The teacher comes in to uplift the pupil's effort, his growing knowledge, his skills, his orientation. When a good teacher and a good pupil come together, astonishing results follow for both of them — and under ideal conditions incredible transmutations of the personality and its power take place, as we can witness in some of the selections in this book.
Instruction, example and influence are the three instruments of a good teacher. A good teacher does not instruct merely by words. In fact, he makes a sparing use of them. He utilizes his communicative skills to invent illuminating phrases and expressions, to initiate meaningful devices and projects, and to create a stimulating atmosphere and environment.
The art of instruction is extremely subtle and delicate, but a good teacher practises this art effortlessly. He harmoniously blends formal with informal instruction. He varies his methods according to circumstances and organizes his teaching to suit the
varying demands and needs of his pupils. A good teacher is a keen observer and tries to understand each of his pupils by a kind of identity. He strives untiringly to make his programmes or lessons interesting and to awaken in his pupils a power of concentration and an irresistible will for progress. Finally, he instructs even without instructing, and allows his inner mastery of his own knowledge to shine out through actions rather than through words.
A good teacher knows that example is more important than instruction, and he strives not only to keep his ideals in front of him, but also to progressively embody them. He is scrupulously scientific in detecting his own errors and defects, knowing very well that he cannot demand from his students what he himself cannot practise. The example expected from the teacher is not merely his outward behaviour, but his inner life, his aims and the sincerity with which he pursues those aims.
It is sometimes argued that what should be expected from the teacher is professional competence and a power of communication, and nothing more. But this contention ignores the fact that the example set by the teacher's inner and outer life is automatically communicated to the pupils, whether this is intended or not. Giving a good example is an inherent part of the teacher's task.
But this is not all. Even more powerful than example is the direct influence the teacher exercises upon his students. Influence is the power of contact and the nearness of the teacher's presence. Knowingly or unknowingly, teachers tend to exercise authority over their students, and sometimes this authority smacks of arrogance. Not infrequently, the act of teaching itself becomes a battery of suggestions of more or less hypnotic intensity. A good teacher must be intent upon cultivating healthy attitudes and traits which have salutary effects on students.
A good teacher accepts his work as a trust given to him by his station and its duties. He recognizes his own importance while acknowledging its relativity. He suggests but does not impose, he is a friend and a philosopher and guide; he does not arrogate to himself vain masterhood. Inspired by humility, he looks upon himself as a child leading children.
A good teacher is a constant learner. He not only renews his knowledge in the field of his specialization, but he also continues to enrich his personality and strives to achieve deeper and higher realizations. Even as he rises higher and higher, he feels a greater and greater need to share his knowledge, skill, experience and illumination with others, particularly with younger generations. In doing so, he may encounter resistance and conflict.
Let us now turn to the pupil. Every child has an inner desire to learn and to grow,
but the most important characteristic of the good pupil is his zeal or enthusiasm. This zeal is what determines the persistence of his effort, and such persistence is indispensable to achieve higher and higher levels of excellence. A good pupil is a seeker of knowledge and, motivated by curiosity and a growing sense of wonder, seeks knowledge for its own sake. He travels from the known to the unknown, and in this travel does not limit himself to thought and imagination alone, but sets out to come in direct contact with Nature and Man, in order to gain access to wider, deeper and higher realms of experience.
A good pupil tends to organize his life and to find time for as many activities as possible. In due course, he discovers that concentration holds the key to development, and that he can compress a long programme of work into a much shorter period by applying the art and science of concentration to it. In his natural process of flowering, he comes to combine work and play, and whether in his more formal studies or in the fine arts and crafts, he aims at cultivating and refining his actual and potential faculties.
A good pupil realizes that both body and mind should be developed vigorously and rigorously. He discovers that the qualities needed in physical education contribute a great deal to the development of an integrated personality. For example, the sporting spirit, valued most in physical education, includes good humour and tolerance and consideration for all, a right attitude and friendliness to both teammates and rivals, self-control and a scrupulous observance of the laws of the game, fair play, an equal acceptance of victory or defeat without bad humour, resentment or ill-will towards successful competitors, and the loyal acceptance of the decisions of the appointed judge, umpire or referee. These qualities have their value for life in general and the help that sports can give to an integral development is direct and invaluable.
One of the best lessons of the sporting spirit is that one should strive not to stand first but to do one's best. And a good pupil should put this lesson into practice in every domain of activity.
In the realm of studies, a good pupil tries to develop different aspects of his mind. The search for truth in a scientific and philosophic spirit is his basic motivation, and he seeks to develop a right discrimination between appearance and reality. He loves books but is not a bookworm. He may or may not read voraciously — his main concern is to cultivate subtlety of intelligence and the capacity to develop complex systems of thought. He learns the skills of analysis and strives to master the dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis.
A harmonious development of the rational mind, the ethical sense and the aesthetic sensibility is the highest aim of normal manhood, and a good pupil strives to integrate the triple powers of reason, will and imagination in harmony with his own unique turn of temperament and the natural law of his inner growth. Indeed, he avoids a hotch-potch of activities but rather seeks to organize them into a kind of unity emerging from the inner core of his soul's integral aspiration.
At an important stage of the pupil's life there comes a choice, and the quality of the pupil will be judged by and will depend upon the choice he makes. This is the choice between the good and the pleasant, shreyas and preyas, to use the terms of the Katha Upanishad. Not that pleasure or enjoyment has no place in an ideal life, but there is a distinction between seeking pleasure for the sake of pleasure and taking pleasure in whatever worthwhile action one does or undertakes to do. A good pupil makes this distinction and finds that, not in seeking pleasure, but in seeking good and finding pleasure in it, lies the secret of self-discipline. Indeed this is also the secret of the integrated personality. The choice between the good and the pleasant is not merely a matter of ethical life; it is, in a sense, a matter that pervades all aspects of life and in all circumstances the pupil is confronted with this choice. He can sustain this continuous encounter with choice only if he has in him that sublimest of qualities, sincerity. Indeed, it can be said that sincerity is the golden key to continuous and integral learning. And no pupil can continue to remain a good pupil unless he has an ever-fresh sincerity which grows continuously and so becomes a burning fire of integral sincerity, that is, sincerity in all parts of the being.
It is this burning fire of sincerity that imparts to the pupil the right thrust and direction, as well as that concentrated and tranquil state of consciousness required to experience the reality which is the object of all knowledge. And it is this burning fire that breaks the limitations of the human mind and leads the seeker into higher domains of psychic and spiritual experience. A good pupil does not refuse to transgress the normal limitations of consciousness, but has the requisite courage to take the staff in his hands and set out on a new journey. For a good pupil is not deterred by dogmatism. He is free to test on the anvil of reason and experience all affirmations and all negations. Henceforth, he is no more a seeker of shadows, appearances, names or forms, but a seeker of the real, the boundless, the infinite.
The journey of the good pupil is difficult and there are tests on the way that he must pass in order to enter new gates of progress. In this journey, sooner rather than later, he comes to learn how to learn, and he employs the principles of learning to educate himself. Sooner rather than later, he comes to learn how to control himself,
and he employs the principles of discipline to achieve self-possession and self- mastery. Sooner rather than later, he comes to know his own nature, his psychological make-up, his inclinations, his own strengths and weaknesses, and he employs the principles of self-enlargement to discover his wider self, and ultimately his highest unegoistic psychic and spiritual self, and the means by which the light and power of the self can be made manifest in the physical world.
But, like any pupil, the good pupil too needs help and guidance from the teacher. The distinguishing mark of a good pupil is the attitude with which he seeks help and the degree and quality of the help he seeks. Since he puts in a good deal of personal effort, he does not demand much of the teacher's time. Yet, since his eagerness to learn is great, he learns faster, and this demands greater attention and time from the teacher. There are seasons of learning when a pupil can need and demand almost exclusive attention. There are instances when a good pupil needs very little help from the teacher and at a certain stage can dispense with it. Frequently this happens when the pupil has found within himself the teacher's living guidance or when he has learned the art of discovering the inner teacher in every circumstance and in every encounter. It may be said that the need for external help diminishes as the pupil advances in the discovery of the inner teacher, or when the inner relationship between the pupil and the teacher is so intimate and intense that the pupil constantly feels an ever increasing and more joyful inner contact with him.
In a sense, the relationship between a good pupil and a good teacher is indescribable. It tends to be profound and irrevocable, and the pupil feels a natural urge to emulate and obey his teacher. The tradition in which the pupil is enjoined to obey the teacher unquestioningly is rooted in the natural sacredness of the living relationship between the good pupil and the good teacher, and this tradition has its uses. But we find that a good teacher appreciates repeated questioning by the pupil, and he even allows a mutual testing.
To foster an increasing number of good teachers and good pupils is a special responsibility of any educational system and of those in charge of designing that system. It is true that good teachers and good pupils have flourished even in the most deficient circumstances, but it is certain that they would have proved to be better teachers and better pupils had the system of education itself been better; and it is also certain that a good system of education tends to promote the rapid multiplication of good teachers and good pupils.
Today, educational systems almost everywhere are utilitarian in character, promoting an examination-oriented education that imprisons teachers and students
alike. Their goals are limited and have no intrinsic relationship with the ideal processes and ends of genuine teaching-learning. This point is very well illustrated in some of the passages included here.
Do we have any idea as to what system of education would encourage the flowering of good teachers and good pupils? This is a difficult question to answer. But if we study various innovative experiments conducted in this context, it seems that an ideal system is yet to be invented and can come about only if three things are assured. First, there must be a great change in the lecture system. Lectures should have a much more modest place than they have today. A greater role should be assigned to self-learning and to work on individual and collective projects. Second, the present syllabus system must undergo a major modification. Programmes of study should be much more flexible. Pupils and teachers should have the possibility of changing the programmes according to the pupils' evolving needs. In fact, syllabi should be evolutionary in character, developing and emerging out of the interests of the pupils and their goals. Finally, the examination system must be thoroughly revised. Tests should be designed to stimulate the pupils to make further progress. They should be impromptu and should vary according to the varying situations of individuals and groups.
An ideal system of education would provide an environment and a framework that facilitates a harmonious blending of freedom and discipline. This harmonious blending presupposes, mainly on the part of teachers and educational administrators, the fulfillment of two conditions: the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of harmony. Neither of these pursuits can be meaningful or fruitful unless they are voluntary. The spirit of liberty is a necessary condition for the search for truth and for securing cooperation, mutual goodwill and fellow feeling. In brief, it may be said that Truth, Harmony and Liberty will be the underlying principles of an ideal system of education.
At the same time, it must be admitted that without good teachers and good pupils there can be no good educational system. Today's educators, therefore, need to work on all three fronts simultaneously: the teacher, the pupil and the system. But where should we begin? This, again, is not an easy question to answer. Probably we should begin from where we are — that is, if we are teachers, we should strive to become good teachers; if we are pupils, we should strive to become good pupils; and if we are in charge of the educational system, we should set about creating new conditions in the system so as to encourage and foster good teachers and good pupils.