Wednesday, April 01, 2009


Was asked to reflect on the question on how to cater to the differing needs of pupils. An answer:

By being humble, by never giving up, by caring.

Perhaps we take on a new class, anxious to impose a 1-Year Plan honed by years of successful experience. We have the goals, we have the means, we have the knowledge, and we efficiently churn out identical academic merchandise of high quality. Faced with stubborn materials and deviating wills, we attempt to melt and break so that a greater good can be served--good as we define it.  And perhaps most are happy with the results attained. Parents and most students leave with desired grades and a flat contentment made possible by their ignorance of greater possibilities. Those who are shrivelled by this approach are deemed misfits, rebels and under-achievers and discarded in the scrap heap to be recycled into appropriate streams. Principals and school leaders credit the efficient teacher for his productivity and reliability. Perhaps he gets promoted and re-creates an entire school in his image. Surely, a good educator is one trusted to churn out uniform rows and rows of identical 'A's through One True Plan, and cloning such good educators will be for the greater good of human civilisation.  

Industrial production is highly efficient when mass-producing material goods. But in education, we are dealing with infinitely complex spirits, minds, wills, bodies.  In literature, one can read of how several beings can reside in one body, how the darkest soul can harbor flaming stars, how the saint may shroud the beast, how strength may be a portent of greatest weakness, and how folly is often the sage-child destined for Wisdom's crown. Not only are we immensely different from each other, we are seldom what we seem. And we are usually not what we could be, for we are each capable of transfiguration. Gnothi seauton, know thyself, advises the Greek, and this is already a formidable task. How then can we stand before the wonder of another human being and purports to know what is in another person, and more, what is best for the other person?

We can only guess. And make the best guess we can till the dawn comes. Humility is the appropriate attitude for the wise teacher who knows that we do not truly know. To recognise that we too, like our pupils, are on a quest of understanding. To be humble, and to strive on persistently, to always seek to know the depths of our pupils, to know their needs, their abilities, manifest or hidden, and their ways of learning and receiving, their dreams. This cannot be done by one survey, one talk, or a cursory glance--the teacher must persevere to love and to understand, and perhaps still, at the end of it all, to be satisfied with half-lights and many shadows. To endure the pain of frequent failure, of being unable to reach the hearts and minds of our pupils and to aid them on their journey, to endure the even greater pain of being an unwitting obstacle on the path of one's students--this is the steep path of a teacher who seeks to bring out the deepest and best in his pupils, to bring out the unique gifts that they and only they can give the world.  

To bring out what is hidden, to bring out what is true and not merely to impart a superficial good.To awaken understanding and passion in ways that enrich and not smother the hidden symphonies of unique souls--because we care.    If that is what we believe in, if we care, then to cater to the needs of one's pupils consist primarily not of technique or methodologies, though techniques and methodologies have their place and are required. The essence of true education is passion, vision and perseverance. Of a soul willing to stumble in darkness for love, and stumble on, till destined flames rise triumphant in the night.