THE MASTER-TEACHER: A MULTI-DIMENSIONAL PERSPECTIVE
“The bad teacher complains.
The good teacher explains.
The master-teacher inspires”.
There are many dimensions underlying the broad perspective of the master-teacher. An attempt is made here to identify and describe these dimensions that are integrated in the master-teacher’s holistic vision.
The Academic Outlook:
There is a quest for knowledge and gaining deep insight, particularly in one’s chosen field of interest. Ironically, as one gets to learn more and more, one also gets to discover that what one really knows (in terms of depth of understanding and breadth of knowledge) is less and less! This discovery not only serves to bring much-needed humility in the academics perspective, but also serves to stimulate further learning.
An institution is said to have a rich academic culture, if the atmosphere is continually charged with exciting energy, reverberating with academic discussion, not only within classrooms and seminar halls, but also in the corridors, staff rooms, canteens, hostels and lawns. Master-teachers should ideally constitute the fountainhead of such culture.
The Scientific Temperament:
The scientific approach to any problem is based on the question “Why?” In contrast, the unscientific approach is often based on the question “How?” While the emphasis in the case of the latter approach is on how to solve the problem, the emphasis in the former is on questioning the very roots of the problem. The scientific mind devotes considerable time and energy in understanding the nature of the problem, rather than in rushing towards its solution, for there is much to gain from this understanding.
Research and Consultancy:
cademic outlook and scientific temperament naturally lead to an aptitude for research. Anyone endowed with these qualities cannot help but be engaged in research activity of some kind or other (in an informal sense). In teaching, there are many opportunities for doing this on a formal basis through project guidance, especially at the post-graduate and Ph.D levels (to the extent such facilities exist in the institution).
In the field of engineering, it is generally applied research (R & D) to specific industry-related problems that are relevant. Avenues for sponsorship and funding of such projects are increasingly available, and utilized by research-minded teachers. The outcomes of all such research activities acquire value when they get published in good journals of repute. There is also considerable scope for solving industry-related problems through consultancy assignments.
The Art of Teaching:
From a student’s viewpoint, the academic and other accomplishments of a teacher are of little value, unless they can be effectively communicated to the student. Good academic-researcher-consultants are relatively rare, but good communicators are equally rare in teaching. The effectiveness of the teacher is directly related to the extent these attributes co-exist in the teacher.
An excellent communicator with poor academic background is as undesirable (actually, more undesirable) than an excellent academic with poor communication skills. The joint probability of having both attributes in full measure is rather low, which explains why master-teachers constitute a relatively rare species. Nevertheless, institutions should aim to recruit teachers who have elements of both attributes (with more emphasis on academics), and should arrange for appropriate training. However, it takes much more than mere training to become a master-teacher; the ‘raw material’ must be of high calibre.
The master-teacher, in turn, has admiration for the bright students and compassion (not contempt) for the weak ones. He is fair in his evaluation of their performance, and is troubled by his inability to improve the weak students beyond a point. Yet, the master-teacher accepts gracefully the inherent inequalities in Nature, and realizes that the true meaning of success lies in every person’s ability to achieve the best that is possible. In contrast to the ‘bad teacher’, the master-teacher does not complain. The master-teacher never demands respect; he commands it.
The Extra-Mural Outlook:
The term ‘extra-mural’ here refers to the mental space beyond the walls one is normally confined in. The extra-mural outlook adds a higher dimension to the perspective of an accomplished teacher. Looking beyond the limited perspective of science and technology, one can get exposed to wonderful landscapes that are aesthetically appealing and are rich in meaning. This exposure arouses certain essential sensibilities, in addition to providing knowledge. The presence of an extra-mural outlook in a master-teacher adds a special flavour to teaching. It is a subtle flavour, and the students who experience it find it tremendously meaningful and uplifting.
The ‘missing perspective’ discussed at length earlier is bound to be acutely felt by the master-teacher. The apparent all-round gross neglect of human values is a clear symptom of a serious moral epidemic in our present ‘civilization’, and we are all responsible for this. While mankind seems to have made considerable material progress, thanks to science and technology, we also seem to have regressed considerably in terms of something that is more valuable. The Greek philosopher, Socrates, used to refer to this something as the ‘health of the soul’, which he considered to be more important than the health of the body. Socrates was a master-teacher, and many of his ‘rishi’ counterparts in India and China shared the same opinion several thousand years ago. Many of us today click our tongues and nod in agreement, but we do little more than pay lip service.
Thus, the master quietly explores, gains fresh insights and discovers higher planes of consciousness, in which lie concealed the essential unifying truths underlying all religions. The master realizes, without a semblance of doubt, that the highest level of human evolution lies in returning to the original state of uncontaminated innocence. If education is perceived as the inculcation of knowledge and skills, as well as development of character, its culmination lies in discovering clarity and simplicity in understanding, and the final awakening to a sublime state of being that is marked by simplicity, peace and harmony.
Human values in education can rarely succeed by preaching ‘You should do this; you should not do that’, especially when the preacher cannot practice. True success can emerge only from an inner realization, which calls for inspiration. The master-teacher is a source of such inspiration, not only for students, but also for all other persons the master comes in contact with. As for less accomplished teachers, the important lesson to learn is that charity begins at home. True education (in the fullest sense) is a life-long enterprise, and teachers who take to it earnestly will contribute most effectively.
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