Teaching to bond: A calling
By P. Kerr Fulton-Peebles
WHEN I WROTE LAST (Methodist Message, May 2011), I referred to the ills of much of the current state of education in schools and posited an alternative approach of a truly holistic education as worthy of serious consideration. I did not at that point identify one of the logical implications of such an approach namely, the impact that this will have on what is expected of our colleagues.
In the independent sector in the UK, there used to be a slightly prosaic distinction between the role of “teacher” and that of “school master or mistress”, the latter being seen as one which encompassed far more than simply teaching one’s subject. To be a school master or mistress was seen as a higher calling because it went far further by being involved in a much wider range of aspects of a student’s education: the academic work of the classroom or the tutorial certainly, but also time spent on the sports field, or on the stage; perhaps sharing time on community service or on outdoor pursuits; or nurturing the spiritual dimension.
Such an involvement builds a relationship between student and teacher which transcends the teaching of knowledge. In its purest form it allows nurture of the character of both teacher and student which allows learning – whether in the classroom or beyond – to be so much more effective. How can this be explained, particularly if one has not experienced it?
Mr Kurt Hahn, founder of Gordonstoun School in Scotland and pivotal in the formation of the Outward Bound movement, said: “The experience of helping a fellow man in danger, or even of training in a realistic manner to be ready to give this help, tends to change the balance of power in a youth’s inner life, with the result that compassion can become the master motive.”
If we have shared time on an expedition with students, we would get to know one another better, learning from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If you have plunged into a crevasse on a glacier roped together with a student and you have pondered your situation together, helped each other and survived, I would argue that you would have built a relationship of compassion that will allow the teacher to be more effective as a teacher and the student to be a more effective learner, not least because discipline ceases to be an issue. There is a bond which is unique, constructive and priceless – each intrinsically will do all they can to help the other.
Whilst the outdoors is a wonderful milieu to hone such a relationship, it can happen in a myriad of other ways within an educational setting: working together on a play, doing community service together, sharing the wonder of a historical site or art in a gallery. The bond is recognised by those who share it in all sorts of subtle ways: a nod, a knowing look, a sense of peace in shared company.
If this all sounds trite and over-emotional, let me assure you that there will be many teachers (or should it be school masters and mistresses?) who will empathise with this. Equally there will be others for whom this is seen as impossibly altruistic or beyond the contractual obligations of the job. But here is the rub: teaching in a holistic way cannot be a mere job – it has to be so much more if it is to be effective. Although a little prosaic, perhaps the role must be seen as a calling which does not fit neatly into specific time periods.
As teachers, we should attempt to emulate the supreme teacher – Jesus Christ – in reaching out to the souls of our young people to really nurture them. We should seek to allow their talents to flourish, and help them to overcome their weaknesses, by using our own skills and interests in the wide range of opportunities we can all be involved in, within a school which offers a complete education.
The benefits extend so much further than good exam results – although this is one important element – by building vital relationships which allow us all to develop as compassionate human beings created in the image of God. There can be no higher calling, but it requires a genuine commitment on the part of the men and women who teach, and on the part of schools in providing the environment of support to allow this to happen.
Our young need this commitment, and as teachers we must be prepared to give this if we are to be worthy of our calling. Our communities will be the better for it.
P. Kerr Fulton-Peebles is the Principal of ACS (International).