I recently finished reading B.K.S. Iyengar’s The Tree of Yoga, which was given to me as a parting gift when I left my previous school. Iyengar wrote a bit about the art of teaching, and I enjoyed mulling over his ideas.
Iyengar stated, indeed, warned that you “teach only what you know. Do not teach what you do not know…” I have often heard it said that the best way to learn is to teach. Especially in my early years of teaching, walking into a room to teach something with which I was not familiar caused that butterfly feeling in the pit of my stomach, coupled with the hope that nobody would notice my lack of expertise.
In the many years since, I have learned that often times my students will have more knowledge or exposure to something than I have – not uncommon in the fast changing world of computers and technology. I learned that teaching is a two-way shared process between the “teacher” and the “student”. Those nouns are in quotes because, at any given time, the roles change between me, the teacher, and those in the class, the students. Indeed, I hugely believe in and have always tried to have students be part of the professional development sessions organized for faculty. Change up the role dynamics and the process of learning is enhanced for everyone.
So learn, do, re-learn, experience, and you will be able to teach with confidence, courage and clarity.
Teachers must always be learning. They will learn from their pupils and must have the humility to tell them that they are still learning their art.
Iyengar touched on another area of teaching, which is understanding who your students are, and realizing that we do not all learn in the same manner or at the same pace. It is important to try and differentiate instruction so that the learner can make meaning from the experience.
The art of teaching is also to know when to stop.
There are two types of teaching. One is explaining according to your intelligence. The other is knowing the weakness of your pupils, and how you have to explain in order for them to understand your meaning.
First published in 1988, Iyengar’s book deals with the teaching of yoga, but I think that just about all strong teaching follows a similar process. Yoga is, in some ways, similar to physical education and also to physical art. Phys ed and the arts are highly experiential and often touted as providing many examples of teaching that could (should?) be ported over to the academic classroom.