Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On learning from students

'I learned much from my teachers;
More from my colleagues;
But my students taught me the most of all'
[The Talmud]
On Sunday, Raph Brous and I took a group of kids skateboarding. An initiative of Rabbi Shlomo Nathanson, Chabad of Port Melbourne. 
We sat around together assembling their skateboards...

...then went to a local undercover skate park for some fun...
  usual, I drove Raph up the wall...
  ...I expected we'd all just skate together, but, as most of the kids were beginners, I was informally asked to teach them some basic skateboarding skills. I was also invited to share some Torah...
      ...OK so we got a little distracted... 

 .. however, the experience brought my attention to the wonders of teaching; a time to reflect on the ancient truism that one learns more from one's students than one's teachers.
       Indeed, why is this the case?

 Here are a few reasons:

a. Articulation: In order to communicate a thought, one must fragment it into its parts and then translate it into words. As a result, one ends up focusing on the details and nuances of the thought. Concerning this, Kabbalah teaches that speech and thought create a feedback loop of mutual enhancement. Normally, speech is fed by thought - for one communicates what one thinks - however, in articulating thoughts in the speech act, thoughts are amplified and elaborated within the speaker's mind.

b: Questions: In asking their teacher questions, students force the teacher to dig deeper into his conception of the subject in order to provide his students with adequate answers.
c. Preparation: Knowing that one will have to share ideas with students encourages one to comprehend subject matter thoroughly and viscerally. For only then can one effectively share it with students.

d. Insights: 'A small spark can ignite a large fire.' This quote from the Talmud is said in reference to a teacher learning from his students. A student may have an insight into a topic which, on the surface, may appear simple and inarticulate, even confused. Yet, an adept teacher can see the potential in the insight and expand upon it, revealing its sophistication and profundity.         

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