On teaching, and great teachers

Teaching, or coaching, or mentoring, have been recurring words in my life over the past two years.

I recall the greatest teachers of my school days were never those who contained the most facts or imparted the most knowledge.

Indeed, this is distilled in one moment that I remember from Room 7 in my old secondary school, when one of the most important teachers of my school life started us on Hard Times by Charles Dickens.

The first lines of Hard Times go like this:

NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!

The words are spoken by Mr Gradgrind, the school headmaster, before a class of schoolchildren — “the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts”.

My memory is of one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, taking us through a Dickens book about a very different teacher, about very different teaching mechanisms.

The irony was clear.

It’s often said that people “may forget what you said, but will never forget how you made them feel.”

The worst teachers are those who drill facts into us, who rattle off things that they want us to remember. The greatest teachers — and this applies also to mentors and coaches — make us feel something different about ourselves.

They make us alive to the possibilities within ourselves.

They do not shine a light on those possibilities; instead, they give us the power to shine a light on those possibilities ourselves.

The greatest teachers, mentors and coaches empower us in ways we could never have imagined without them.

All of us need great teachers in our lives, and all of us, with a little thought and intention, can also be great teachers to those who need it from us.