Teach, Especially When the Student is Ready

One of the more powerful proverbs I have heard in a while is among Buddhists’ quotes: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. First of all, a proverb is a short saying that generally describes a rule of conduct that can or should be followed by all people. However, for the purposes of education, I will look at this rule as it pertains to teaching and learning, as it involves the disposition of students, and the response of teachers.

Every day that students and teachers interact, there is or should be a common understanding of the purposes behind their interaction. Whether that understanding is regularly stated and therefore known by the students, or is merely implied is an interesting question. Based on students’ test results we see from time to time, it may be argued, quite effectively, that there may be a need for a clearer delineation of the critical elements of student/teacher relationships during the processes of teaching and learning.

Unlike other professions, the teaching profession is central to life itself. It is fundamental to the growth and maintenance of every society. Any society whose children are poorly educated, will see a decline in the ways of life of its people. A strong and vibrant society must have a strong, vibrant, and clear path to the best available education for its children. Such a society does not strive to attract teachers who are good enough, but rather teachers who are the best .

Teachers who are the best at what they do share a number of common attributes. They are committed, kind, caring, engaging, knowledgeable, and approachable. They believe in and love the children they teach, taking care to ensure that individual as well as the collective needs are met, maintain consistency in their professional conduct, constantly pursuing personal and professional learning, and thoroughly plan the lessons they teach, clearly noting the differences in the learning capacities of students . These attributes are a few of many that the best teachers share.

Like an architect, best teachers plan their work and develop a graphic design ahead of presenting it to their students. When they meet with their students, after greeting, welcoming, and putting them at ease, go on to share the purposes of the teaching and learning experience. When a student becomes an active participant in the purposes of the learning experience, the student is more ready to engage in the learning. At that point, the point at which the student understands what, how, and why the learning, that’s when the teacher can begin the process of teaching in earnest — when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

To teach when the student is not ready is to engage in an exercise that will not produce laudable results. For student success, student readiness is key and requires that students be informed of the purpose of their learning; why they need to know it, what it involves, how it will be presented, how it would be evaluated and shared, and what it will do to their wellbeing. It is critical that this process takes place every time that students and teachers interact with each other. If it seems arduous, that’s because it is and that’s because it is teaching. The teaching profession is unlike other professions. It requires people who are unlike other people. The job of teachers is not replicated in any other profession.

When a doctor interacts with patients, it is usually one at a time. When a banker interacts with clients, often it is one on one. When a lawyer deals with clients, that too is usually one on one, but when a teacher interacts with students, it’s usually 25 at a time and can be as many as 35. Best teachers are rare human beings. Best teachers ensure that so-called “normal” students know what they are going to learn, how, and why and that students with attention deficit disorders must also know too. They cannot be treated as after-thoughts or no thoughts at all. It must be remembered that they too can learn, albeit in a different way from other students.

Today’s best teachers are “guides on the side” and not “sages on stages”. The notion of the front of the class is as old as a thing forgotten or should be. As students engage in their learning, especially when they are ready, best teachers are there, standing outside of their projected world, guiding and showing them ways to proceed. Is this a new way? Perhaps, to some it is, but it is a winning way and a way, when applied, will make a world of positive difference for every child, no matter the learning style. So, teach, especially when the student is ready.



A. Adolphus Evans