Tuesday, May 20, 2008

H is for Humility

This morning I was reading the gospel parable of the pharisee and the publican, and it started me thinking, once again, about the importance of humility – of absolute selflessness – in teaching. If we can imagine the men in the parable as two types of teachers, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The one considers himself to be the all-important center and hub of the classroom, from which every thought and activity emanates and around which all learning circulates. The other type of teacher, represented by the publican, thinks of himself (his “self”) in the opposite way -- as no more important than anything else, as merely a part of an infinite and incomprehensible force called “learning”. The first teacher “prayed thus with himself” because the self was what he really cared about, was what he actually “worshipped”. The second teacher, in contrast, didn’t even lift his eyes up, realizing that he was in the presence of an overwhelming power. I hope I can always be like the publican when I’m teaching. More and more each day, I realize that the “self” is the biggest obstacle to good teaching. It’s the grandest of all delusions, this notion that a distinct, separate person called a “teacher” creates the learning. The first teacher in the parable believed that fantasy, which is exactly why he would be a disaster in the classroom. Conversely, the teacher represented by the humble publican is the one whose classroom might be truly energized by learning, precisely because he knows that he is not the energizer. He knows an immense power runs everything in the universe, including his classroom, and all he can do is put his ego aside and allow this power to perform its work. As one Bible translation has it, this teacher “stands afar off”, away from the spotlight, and in doing so helps to create extraordinary teaching and learning.

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