Dr James Roche, Monday 20 August 2012
Some pupils study only as far as the teacher pushes them to do so.
But the teacher should encourage them to think for themselves about the question set, to adopt careful and questioning ways of thinking and the determination to work to overcome setbacks. Pupils should be ready to take risks, while taking care to learn from errors. They should take the trouble to consider the different steps in an argument, what they amount to and why they apply. But many students lack the patience to do this (as, indeed, I did when I was young). Jumpy haste is fatal! And if you don’t understand the teacher, take the initiative and buy a decent textbook!
The teacher might say: ‘Don’t worry that you got low marks. Let’s discuss what you wrote so you get a better understanding and learn from your mistakes.’ Or again, ‘Actually the reason you don’t understand this is that you don’t really understand that other point, so let’s take time to reconsider that first and then perhaps this one will no longer seem so puzzling.’ If one way of putting it is not understood, then the teacher should try some other way round.
If students take pleasure in seeking a real understanding of the human or scientific ideas that they encounter, then they will be keen to acquire the language and technical skills that their subject requires. A friend told me that he started taking an interest in maths methods only when he found he needed them for his carpentry!
Students’ pride in their growing skills and understanding can help them to value their own particular range of abilities, even perhaps accepting their limitations as part of the deal without jealously comparing themselves with others who may seem effortlessly successful – ‘desiring this man’s scope and that man’s art...’ (Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29). Teaching should be therapeutic!