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November 9th, 2020
There’s nothing quite like getting slapped in the face by reality. The wake up call, the reality check, the humbled grounding. Despite the aggressive way this experience is described, and as brutal as it can feel, we refer to this same thing as the best teacher. This is either a comment on the potential nullity of our teachers, or it’s perhaps not the best way to describe the role of reality.
Anyone who has been a teacher knows that students can be quite a handful, coming with their own particular understanding, stubbornness and perspective about what to do and how to do it. There is a rather naive view of the teaching profession as simply imparting information, knowledge and know-how. Unfortunately the task before all teachers is quite a bit more complicated and difficult. A classroom is always a smorgasbord of various attention spans, temperaments and rabble-rousing. The task is first and foremost an awfully difficult social experiment: simply corralling the attention of a bunch of young, still-developing humans is a feat in of it self. Almost anything else is usually more attractive to such attention spans than the subject to be taught - not to mention their exceptional ability to deride the attention of each other.
Beyond this, a teacher has to calibrate for the lowest common denominator in terms of who understands what. If half the class came from a different school which didn’t cover the same material, then those who already know it have to go over it again so everyone can get on the same page.
This is really what teaching is all about: getting someone on the same page.
First with each other, and then with the teacher who knows more.
Far from the teacher being a rude wake up call, it’s often the students that present a rude wake up call as to the magnitude of the task at hand. This isn’t to say anything about kids at all - kids will be kids, but rather to point out that teachers are far more understanding, forgiving and generous than reality usually is. And yet we call reality the best teacher.
Strangely, it makes a bit more sense if you flip the roles, and cast reality as the student who simply doesn’t understand what you’re trying to do. It’s the teacher who iterates their approach in order to get the student to understand the lesson at hand. So too with our role as we try to make something happen in the world. We iterate our approach to try and make an idea, goal or dream come true.
Failures and errors in our approach always have to do with some sort of unknown aspect of reality, much like a teacher who is trying to teach calculus to a class that hasn’t even learned algebra. It’s not that the students require a harsh wake up call, but that the teacher needs to back peddle the subject so that it can all make sense.
Far from having one’s own dreams crushed by the cricket-sound of a disinterested reality, it’s perhaps more enabling and productive to see reality as a student that simply can’t yet see where you’re coming from and what you’re trying to do.
The same sort of questions arise as we try to iterate for the next attempt, but the framing is filled with far more agency:
What have you missed that needs to be done so that your message, your work and your art can be understood, and loved?