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The Elements of Teaching

The Elements of Teaching

James M. Banner
Harold C. Cannon
Copyright Date: 1997
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    The Elements of Teaching
    Book Description:

    What are the characteristics of a great teacher? What qualities of mind and spirit are necessary to help others acquire the knowledge through which they can understand and live a good life? In this book, James Banner and Harold Cannon draw on many years of experience to set forth the intellectual, moral, and emotional capacities that they believe the best teachers must possess. Their book is an inspiring guide to current and future school teachers and to college and university professors-indeed to everyone who teaches anything to anyone else.Arguing that teaching is an art, Banner and Cannon help teachers understand its components. They analyze the specific qualities of successful teachers and the ways in which these qualities promote learning and understanding. Throughout, they illustrate their discussion with sharply etched portraits of fictional teachers who exemplify-or fail to exemplify-a particular quality. Neither a how-to book nor a consideration of the philosophy, methods, or activities of teaching, this book, more precisely, assesses what it takes to teach. It encourages teachers to consider how they might strengthen their own level of professional performance.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12714-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Most teachers forget that teaching is an art.

    Trained in the sciences and techniques of education, professional teachers are conscientious in applying the psychology and methods that they have learned. They may not call what they are trying to do “teaching” and may prefer instead such terms asexplanation, instruction, demonstration, guidance, or simplysetting a good example. Yet even those who have enjoyed first-class professional preparation, when summoned to instruct, guide, and inform those entrusted to them, are faced with one of the greatest, because earliest, challenges of teaching: they must improvise as best they can. And they rarely...

  5. Learning
    (pp. 7-20)

    All teaching involves the transmission of knowledge, like the handing-on of the torch in the Olympic Games. Just as the flame must stay alive while the torch passes from hand to hand, so knowledge must remain kindled if anything is to be transferred from teacher to student. If the fire of knowledge is extinguished in teachers, even the best students are unlikely to reignite the torch and carry it to its ultimate destination—the achievement of understanding.

    Teachers are presumed to possess knowledge, which their teaching communicates to their students. It follows that in order to teach they must know...

  6. Authority
    (pp. 21-34)

    Discussions of teaching seldom include any mention of authority. Yet we cannot teach without it. It is at the center of all our efforts in the classroom, the workshop, and the office. A teacher’s instruction may lack many of the other useful elements of instruction and still have some beneficial effect, but teaching without authority ceases to be teaching at all. If teachers have no command of their classrooms, their students ignore their knowledge, and their compassion for their students’ efforts is pointless. Yet what is authority, and why is it so important to teaching?

    Authority in teaching, as in...

  7. Ethics
    (pp. 35-50)

    A character in an otherwise deservedly forgotten play by a Nazi playwright was made to remark that he had a revolver at the ready whenever he heard the wordculture. Some are similarly inclined to draw a weapon when invited to think about ethics. The term suggests at once something old-fashioned, straitlaced, and priggish. It conjures up thoughts of a moral police, censorship, pompous rectitude, sanctimonious hypocrisy—all that is the enemy of a jealous regard for our own rights and freedom of action. Yet rightly understood, ethics implies none of these things. It has instead to do with what...

  8. Order
    (pp. 51-66)

    Many of the world’s commanding myths explain the origins of human culture by describing the creation of the world as the imposition of order on chaos. The credibility and appeal of the myths have depended in part on our innate sense that harmony must replace discord, that chance must give place to certainty, and that direction must substitute for indirection if human society is to exist. It is also generally understood that incentives and sometimes even coercion are necessary for the creation of order because disorder always resists being rearranged into order. Thus the shaping and maintenance of structure, within...

  9. Imagination
    (pp. 67-80)

    Behind all good teaching, though rarely acknowledged, lies all teachers’ ambition for all students they have ever taught—that their students be more knowledgeable, more open to life, more understanding of the world than when they first entered the teachers’ classrooms. Good teachers thus have the ability somehow to imagine themselves in their students’ places, and then to help those students imagine themselves in other times, locations, and circumstances not immediately present to their senses and, for the most part, never previously experienced. Teachers—whether teaching physics, literature, or arithmetic—thus lose a bit of themselves in their students while...

  10. Compassion
    (pp. 81-94)

    In conversations concerning professional behavior, discussions of feelings are often dismissed as improper. Yet it is impossible to understand teaching without acknowledging the chief emotion that prompts and motivates it when it is at its best—a profound concern for students that springs from the heart as well as from the head, an irresistible desire to help the young overcome their natural weaknesses and to dispel all people’s ignorance. A remarkable teacher, one of the greatest the world has ever known, broke down and wept when brought face to face with the confusion and unhappiness that afflicted those who came...

  11. Patience
    (pp. 95-106)

    When shakespeare, inTwelfth Night, put patience “on a monument, smiling at grief,” he characterized it as the ability to accept loss gracefully in a world of sadness and tragedy. He also called up the image of an inert and passive victim too weak to rise up from adversity, an image that survives in our current word for a doctor’s client. Yet even if teachers sometimes suffer—from hard, undercompensated, underappreciated labor, or from students who do not learn quickly or well enough—and if they sometimes feel that they cannot drag themselves through another day of punishing work, the...

  12. Character
    (pp. 107-120)

    Teachers of previous ages, both in legend and in history, often had forbidding temperaments. Severity was a common mark of their personalities, and descriptions of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century classrooms frequently portray school-masters as inflicting corporal punishment on their unfortunate students with a cane, switch, or ruler. In “The Deserted Village,” Oliver Goldsmith depicted one such teacher as “a man severe . . .stern to view.”

    I knew him well, and every truant knew;

    Well had the boding tremblers learn’d to trace

    The day’s disasters in his morning face.

    Few are now likely to be Goldsmith’s “man severe.” Today’s successful and admired...

  13. Pleasure
    (pp. 121-132)

    Although a few people teach because it is the only way they can earn a living while engaging in their true love — like painting or carrying on research — most teachers teach because it gives them the deepest sort of satisfaction. And this is how it should be. It is difficult to imagine effective teachers who do not have an abiding fascination with their subjects, who do not love being among students, and who do not gain fulfillment from nourishing others’ minds and lives. Most people who teach also do so in part because it involves plain good fun — laughter, humor,...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 133-142)

    Those who have read what we have written about the constituent elements of teaching may be wondering by now whether achieving these standards is not beyond the reach of all but the rarest paragon. How can different teachers in a school or college classroom under differing conditions of instruction embody the qualities of character, heart, and mind that we have considered? How can those who teach without being formally employed to do so-as parents, say, or as physicians or scout leaders-summon these qualities in the normal course of their lives? And how can these elements be brought into some balance...