The overriding principal for me is in loco parentis, meaning I have the same duty of care as the best example of a parent. How I interpreted this is to encourage my students with warmth, affection and inculcating a sense of belief and self-confidence. How this should be manifest is the student should feel that the teacher enjoys their company both within and without the formal learning environment. The student should be encouraged to ask questions when they have questions. Disciplining of students is done in proportion and done with great care to preserve the dignity of the student. Of course, being an effective teacher and setting work that is challenging and that is marked within an appropriate time and for which appropriate feed-back given. A good teacher identifies individual needs and learning styles and should be prepared to go beyond the call of duty to address these styles and needs, if they cannot be addressed within the normal course of things. Lessons should be well structured and planned, but a good teacher will allow their students to take control of their own learning and be prepared to change the lesson to make use of a learning opportunity and re-schedule and re-organize the lesson that was intended to take account of the impromptu lesson’s content.
My purpose is to educate the complete individual, to develop critical, discriminating analytical skills and to facilitate the creation of life-long learners. This last ideal is perhaps the most important, since it will allow for a more fulfilled person.
When I was a high school student, it seemed to me that most of my teachers thought that their students were a lot less switched on than we actually were. The teachers (or professors as they were rather called) who did realize this were the most effective and were held in the highest esteem and affection, then and now1. On starting my vocation twenty years ago, I was struck and saddened by how little this had changed.
It seems to me that what is often missing in teachers’ approach is the lack of appeal to students innate causational sense and that current, Anglo-Saxon educational theory has misunderstood how to make academic subjects relevant. My approach is to address both of these issues directly. Many academic subjects are now presented piecemeal, sub-topic driven and is largely a memorization task. It takes quite a sophisticated thinker to piece together the coherent conceptual framework that links all of the presented data. I facilitate the student’s own development of the conceptual framework from the start, from first principles, based on a central theme.
For example, in chemistry the central theme is history. Our word history comes from the Greek, histor meaning story, and everyone loves a good story. Furthermore, and more importantly this hypothesis (and theory when I publish it) assumes that an individual can develop an understanding of the conceptual framework in the same way as it developed in the world community of ideas. The relevance for the student comes immediately from the success in rational tasks, based on experimental data2 and subsequently, based on the analysis of the data, a good understanding of the nature of material. This approach allows a complete causational change to develop and hence helps develop critical thinking. The data that most curricula requires students to memorize is remembered far more easily when the student can fit the data to the simple conceptual framework that the students themselves have developed. The first principles upon which this approach is based are just three laws, Lavoisier, Proust and Avogadro3. Every other necessary law can be derived from these. Of course, it is not necessary to recite laws, but they do allow for a bit of local colour from the good story approach, e.g. Lavoisier was beheaded during The Terror after the French Revolution, Priestley was run out of town for his support for the French Revolution, Newton spent most of his time as a numerologist and probably was an Arianist, which was dangerous heresy at the time, et c.
The approach for physics and maths are largely similar. The central theme for physics is energy and that for maths graphs and Cartesian geometry. I find it very hard to separate maths and physics since my approach to maths is based on Euclid and The Axiomatic System (deduction) that based nearly all maths on Euclid’s five axioms and postulates, and that Boyle and Newton used the Axiomatic System to empirical data.
For guitar, rock and acoustic, the central theme is the pentatonic scale; five notes. The process is the same as for the academic subjects, i.e. simple logic and quick assimilation.
The process outlined above can be applied to a complete curriculum or to parts, but to address parts reference must be made to an holistic appreciation.
Education, real education dissolves the artificial boundaries between specialisms. This can de facilitated to an extent by cross-curricular approaches, but this requires teachers themselves to be lifelong learners and have interests and good working knowledge beyond their disciplines.
Furthermore, the classification of academic, non-academic et c., is also artificial. For example it is my contention that genius in science, is an artistic event and that the best thinkers are pre-school children. When I have taken over classes at year 7, I found that I have often had to de-programme their narrow thinking skills. If these students stay with me until year 13, they find physics and chemistry easy.
This is why I am so glad to hear Sir Ken Robinson's piece on creativity in education and the need for a change of paradigm.
1 For my fellow alumni, I am thinking here of Tom O’Gara, Big Mick Tierney, Cathal Logue, the dramatist, Brian Friel and the Nobel Peace Laureate, John Hume. Name dropper? Moi!?
2 The experimental work can be done virtually using my simulators.
3 To summarize: the volume of any gas is directly proportional to the number of particles of gas in that volume: substances combine in the same proportion by mass and by number of particles. For example, 12g carbon combines with 32g oxygen to give 44g carbon dioxide: one particle of carbon combines with two particles of oxygen to produce one particle of carbon dioxide. The volume occupied by the number of particles of 44g carbon dioxide is the same as this number of particles of any other gas.