The Best Teachers
“The best teachers are those who show you where to look,
but don’t tell you what to see.”
– Alexandra K. Trenfor
As a teacher, I love this quote. It brilliantly and succinctly delineates the difference between good teaching and bad teaching.
Good teaching is the art of guiding by example—sharing what you know and helping students discover wisdom. One important lesson I learned about teaching rather early in my career is that you can lead a person to facts but you cannot make them look and think. Seeing, thinking, deliberating, and learning are up to them. At most, we can encourage them and show them where to look.
Showing students where to look but not what to see is respecting them as individuals with their own agency and free will. Students learn best when they have the freedom to see for themselves and develop their own insights. My tasks as a teacher are to engage with students, listen and respond to them, and facilitate their learning.
Bad teaching, perhaps more correctly called “indoctrination,” is telling students what to see, or more correctly, what someone thinks they are supposed to see and think. Bad teaching does not give students the freedom to explore and think for themselves. It denies their individuality, free will, and agency. Bad teachers, either because they do not care or are incapable to do otherwise, neglect the art of guiding students by example. Teaching that dumps a heap of facts onto students and teaches to outcomes or to a test, does not help students grow past the level of information.
The quote is attributed to Alexandra K. Trenfor. Who that person is is a mystery. I searched and could not find any mention of such a person aside from this quote. I do not even know if such a person ever existed. Trenfor is an Italian surname, for what that is worth. Regardless of who first thought and wrote or said this quote, the wisdom of the quote remains.