I read a set of aphorisms, and this is displayed at my work desk. I take a peek at it every time I leave my desk to take a class. It is more than a ritual, even if I should say so myself.
First, the set of aphorisms:
A poor teacher tells,
An average teacher teaches,
A good teacher explains,
An excellent teacher demonstrates,
And, great teacher inspires.
There is a way to understand aphorisms. An aphorism is neither the truth nor the untruth. It has no normative value. What it is, if you are aware of one that suits the situation you are in, is a message that somewhere someone thought along these lines and see if it fits your situation in the here and now.
I’ll give two longstanding adages: “He who hesitates is lost.” “Look before you leap.” Neither one can be the truth or untruth without making the other untruth or truth! So, given a taxing situation which of these has the upper hand for you? That is for you to decide! How do you decide? The two do not help! You decide and erase your internal conflict by stressing the one that supports your action – looking or leaping! An aphorism helps in post-facto justification!
How does my desk display help me? When my colleagues come to my desk and see the display, I can see in their faces a level of discomfort. Each, without fail, sees the set in terms of the standard questionnaire that ranks an individual in various items of comparison. Are you extremely above average or extremely below average or somewhere in between? The source of obvious discomfort.
Well, I experience no such discomfort, not because I give myself the best grade! I recognize that I traverse the gamut. Sometimes, even within the one hour I engage my students, I am a poor teacher, sometimes average, and so on down the lines.
Of course, I never rate myself a great teacher. Why? It is not for me to judge whether I have inspired anyone. It is for my students to indicate. I am not vainglorious enough to seek their opinion on this. So, I am blissfully ignorant!
When I leave my desk, I commit myself to limiting the “poor teacher” appellation in that class. And, if I did remember what I did in the last class, I definitely put in greater effort this time round. Continuous improvement, kaizen, as they say in management, referring to Japanese manufacturing, particularly Toyota. I try to skew the curve to the right, moving towards “excellent teacher”. This effort to improve is what I gain by taking a peek at the gradation set.
My contention here is, to understand what is displayed on my desk, one has to overarch oneself over all the categories and locate himself or herself in the range. This has to be dynamic. Do not treat yourself as fixed at one point on the scale.
And, this precisely is how an adage has to be understood.