Peter Drucker on teaching

In his excellent autobiography, Adventures of a Bystander, Peter F. Drucker offers his insights into the teaching profession.

Remembering two excellent teachers of his youth, Miss Elsa and Miss Sophy, he draws a distinction between those who are “born teachers”–who have a “gift” for it. These are the teachers like Miss Sophy, whose natural personality seems made for imparting skills to others. Then there are the “pedagogues,” the “guides to learning” who are able–by using models of excellence and focusing on skill building–to “program learning” into the student.

Drucker quotes Martin Buber quoting a wise rabbi of the first century on learning:

The Good Lord has so created Man that everyone can make every conceivable mistake on his own. Don’t ever try to learn from other people’s mistakes. Learn what other people do right.

This inspires me to turn from the “bad sentences” in student writing that I have collected forever, believing that students would gain proficiency in mastering the faults, and to seek the examples of student excellence, which have been there, and which can accomplish more by inspiring good work of the students.

Miss Elsa’s method inspires me with its sensible programmatic approach, one that “guides the student to learning.  Good teachers are like Miss Elsa; they

find the strengths of the individual student and set goals to develop those strengths. They set both long-range goals and short-range ones. Only then do they concern themselves with the student’s weaknesses, which emerge as limitations on the full exercise of the student’s strengths. They make sure that students get the feedback from their own performance, so they can exercise self-control and direct themselves. These people praise rather than criticize. But they use praise so sparingly that it never loses its capacity to stimulate, and never replaces the satisfaction and pride of achievement as the student’s main reward (emphases added).

 These master teachers, Drucker says, “do not ‘teach’; they program the student for effective learning.”

Finally, both Miss Sophy and Miss Elsa avoid the deadly disease of all bad teaching:  boredom.  So long as they can take sincere interest in the subject and learning of students, teachers will impart their enthusiasm and make even repetitious and tedious subjects interesting.

Fortunately, I have always found the pursuit of greater skill fascinating, so my being bored is not a risk. But with Drucker’s distinction in mind, I can work this summer on making my curricula even better at “programming students for learning.”

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