25 November 2000
This is my favorite teaching story:
Once upon a time, there was a student whose Master was a stone.
That's it. That's the whole story. Amazing, isn't it? A wealth of lessons packed into one sentence. I love it.
It isn't easy being a teacher. It isn't easy being a storyteller, either. And for this one, you've got to be both.
When you tell the story as a teaching, you gather all eyes and begin as if you're telling the most important and interesting story the world will ever hear, "Once upon a time, there was a student whose Master was a stone," and then you stop. Just stop. Don't respond in any way. But don't let go, either. Continue to hold the audience... and hold the audience... and hold— it isn't easy. Try assuming a meditative posture and demeanor...
If you've do it right, someone will eventually ask a question. Then the teaching begins.
It doesn't matter what the question is, any question will do. You've got their attention. Now, as the teacher, you— must— not— answer. They'll ask the question again. Or another. And, perhaps, they'll keep after you trying to get some response...
There will be varying reactions to this. Listen carefully to what they say to you, but do not respond in any way. In the end, they'll stop. Out of frustration, they'll give up. Because it will be like talking to a stone.
Then, when you judge it is time*, you will say, if you have to, "And that is exactly what the student learned."
As I say, it isn't easy being a teacher. Sometimes, even with the best of intentions, we teach our students things we do not intend to teach. The stone taught his student not to ask questions. How often have we, in our roles as teachers, through impatience or uncertainty or inattention, or out of our own fear, been abrupt or unfeeling or unresponsive and thereby taught our students not to ask us questions? And because we have taught them not to ask, not to trust us to be teachers, how many opportunities for learning have been lost to both of us?
(If I had a quarter— !)
* For an education in proper timing in both comedy and drama, just watch all of Chuck Jones's cartoons. (Bugs bunny, Daffy Duck, Roadrunner, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.) Even if you never learn timing, you'll have a good time.
Copyright © 2000 New Moon
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