The Keys to Effective Teaching
This is the talk I delivered when I was invited as a resource person in a webinar for Education students in the Philippines on February 16, 2022.
On Teaching Philosophies
No two teachers are alike. Even if they are from the same race and culture and graduated from the same university, don’t expect them to embrace the same educational philosophies and to develop the same set of beliefs and values. You won’t see them apply the same methods and strategies in the classroom, approach teaching and learning with the same degree of passion, and treat the learners in the same manner.
Teachers are different in many ways.
Teachers decide which perspectives they would use when looking at their role as mentors and when looking at their students. Such perspective depends on either the philosophical foundations upon which they are grounded or their personal set of beliefs… or maybe both.
Teachers may have read too much of Hegel, Kant, and Plato that they may have developed idealistic tendencies indoctrinating their students into believing that they do not exist for themselves but for others and for a higher purpose. Or like Aristotle, Locke, or Rousseau (who all tried to debunk the ideas established by Plato and company) the teachers maybe slowly training their students to subscribe to rational thinking, that the latter need to think critically and scientifically. They could be pragmatists like Dewey and Kilpatrick, guiding students to keep themselves in touch with reality for they believe that there is no other world aside from what can be perceived by the senses.
Whatever values and beliefs teachers have doesn’t really matter for as long as nothing they say and do in the class is inimical to the interests of the students. What is important is that everything that they say and do in the classroom is intended to lead the students to the attainment of their full potentials, help them acquire and develop the necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values, and prepare them to live a meaningful and productive life. Teachers should not forget Descartes’ view of formal education – “It is the process of acquiring and developing quality or skill.”
So, for as long as the end is to make the students the best they can be, the philosophy upon which the teachers grounded their teaching doesn’t matter.
So be it if the teachers are like Satre, leaning towards Existentialism in guiding the students to take responsibility in deciding who they are in order to make themselves authentic individuals.
Nobody can claim that this or that philosophical perspective in education is superior to the other. It’s fine if the teachers wish to embrace all the philosophies and combine their best features to serve and guide them in shaping their set of values and in choosing their methods and strategies.
Combining the philosophies is not, by the way, a novel idea. In Scholasticism, St. Thomas Aquinas, harmonized Idealism and Realism. What about coming out with a philosophical perspective combining the four major philosophies in Education?
The philosophies aforementioned have shaped the teachers into the kind of educators that they are today. Whatever they knowingly and unknowingly say and do in the classrooms are offshoots of their set of values and beliefs. And this set of values and beliefs constitute their philosophy of education.
Teachers may have also accumulated through the years a personal system of values that govern every decision they make in the classrooms. Thus we see them approach their teaching (and deal with their students) in different ways. We see them display different degrees of enthusiasm in teaching. Some display no enthusiasm at all.
There are teachers who are “sages on the stage” who believe, the way the realists and idealists do, that knowledge emanates from them being the authorities. So, the students should be spoonfed. Conversely, there are teachers, who, like the existentialists and pragmatists, act like “guides on the side” painstakingly guiding the students to self-discovery.
There are teachers who would choose specific methods and strategies without considering the specific needs of their students. But there are also those who would be conscientious enough to take into consideration the heterogeneity in the class before deciding what learning system they would put into effect.
There are teachers whose mere mention of their names would either disgust the students or send shivers down their spine. Conversely, there are teachers who try to make learning fun making the students enjoy, and not fear, the classroom.
There are teachers who consider the classroom a workplace, while others consider it a playground. They work playfully or playfully work happy doing what they are doing in the classroom thereby rubbing off to the students their joyful spirit and make learning fun.
There are teachers who have seemingly forgotten that the students are not just empty sheets waiting to be filled out as in Locke’s Tabula Rasa. The kids in the classrooms are not wax figures with empty minds which the teachers need to stuff with all the knowledge that the curriculum requires. These students are not just intellectual beings, they have emotions. They have needs beyond knowledge and skills. They also need respect, love, and understanding. They should be treated the way parents would treat their children. What for that we call the school the second home? What for that we call the teachers the second parents?
Whatever the teachers decide to be… whatever system they implement… whatever method and strategies they apply… however they view learning… however they treat their students… would depend on their perspectives as dictated by their educational philosophy and their set of values and beliefs.
The way teachers conduct themselves as professionals and the way they treat their students depend on whether they treat teaching as means of livelihood or a way of life.
Self-Doubt: The 8th Deadly Sin
Lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride are referred to in Christian teachings as the “seven deadly sins.” These, to the Roman Catholics, are the cardinal sins. If a person commits any of the said sins, he is believed to be cut off from God’s grace.1
Actually, the Bible does not specifically mention the concept “seven deadly sins.” But in Galatians 5: 16-19, identified are 15 acts of the sinful nature. Perhaps St. Gregory the Great, during his reign as Pope, attempted at conciseness so he tried to reduce that number and chose only the worst sins that man can commit hence we have a shorter list of capital vices.
But St. Paul (who wrote the Galatians) and St. Gregory overlooked another human frailty that (this writer) believes, should have been added in the list of sins. There exists another spiritual infirmity which is equally harmful as any of the deadly sins. It’s called self-doubt.
But should self-doubt be really considered a sin? Is it so serious an offense that it can affect a person negatively and it could possibly ruin his life.
Many would say it’s a bit too much to consider it as such. But self-doubt is not an ordinary flaw in a person’s character.
For the purpose of this essay, we will define self-doubt, strictly, as “the feeling of not having confidence in yourself or your abilities.”2 The DOUBT being discussed here does not refer to that philosophical function “to cast doubt.”3
The definition above (the one before the disambiguation) makes self-doubt sound harmless…not something immoral or demonic that would make the moralists and bible scholars (both past and present) look at it as a sin. That’s probably the reason no religious movement, Christianity included, classified such human inadequacy as a sin…much more a deadly one.
Self-doubt, however, is not as simple as it seems. This impotence of the human spirit have grave consequences not only to the person having it but to the family where he belongs and to the society where he lives. A person plagued by it will be less-productive or not productive at all and is definitely not going to contribute anything for his family and society.
In arguing that self-doubt is a sin it is important to review the nature of sin in the philosophical standpoint.
Sin is said to be a moral evil.4 This brings us to another question…what is evil? St. Thomas defines the word (evil) as a privation of form or order or due measure. Evil implies a deficiency in perfection.4
Self-doubt is clearly an imperfection. It indicates the absence of confidence which is considered essential for a person’s well-being and is a requirement in the pursuit of what Abraham Maslow refers to in Psychology as “self-actualization” or achieving one’s full potential. Sin is a diversion from the perceived ideal order of human living.5 A person doubting his capabilities veers away from becoming the best that he can be and reduces his chance of living life to the fullest.
It could be argued that there are lot of other negative human characters that may indicate imperfections. But none is as damaging to the person as self-doubt. Something is wrong with a person if he lacks confidence and has very low (or no) feeling of self-worth. These are conditions that may lead to failure and unhappiness.
In addition, philosophical or moral sin is a human act not in agreement with rational nature and right reason.5
It is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience. 6 It is unreasonable to doubt one’s capabilities. It is a person’s moral obligation to believe in himself. It is not right to think one would fail even without really trying. He needs to have faith not only in God (if he happens to believe in one) but also in himself.
Allowing self-doubt to reign is depriving the self of discovering one’s potentials. When a person decides to doubt himself, he eradicates his ability to fulfill his goals and to achieve his dreams.
Failures are indeed impossible not to happen. But even if one fails in several attempts to succeed he should decide not to stop trying. There’s a long list of famous personalities (like Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Walt Disney and Henry Ford) who had their share of failures but never gave up.
Sin, also, wounds the nature of man.6
Thalk emphasizes that self-doubt destroys the heart, mind, body and soul. It is one of the major obstacles to living the life that people truly deserve. This unhealthy food for the soul drags down a person’s spirit, crushes his ambitions, and prevents him from achieving all that he can.7
Doubt impedes a person’s development. It is the biggest roadblock to self-actualization. Self-doubt prevents people from becoming the best they could be… from realizing their full potentials… from achieving their dreams. Shakespeare stressed, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” Suzy Kassem added that doubt kills more dreams than failure ever did.
Some degree of self-doubt is generally held to be normal. It can be helpful in some cases, as it often leads to introspection and enhanced performance. But it may require medical help when it becomes debilitating, affects daily function, or impedes performance at work or school.8
There’s no immorality committed when one doubts himself. Why should it be then considered a sin?
A sin may either be a sin of commission or a sin of omission. Sins of commission are sins we commit by doing something we shouldn’t do and sins of omission are sins we commit by not doing something.9 The seven deadly sins are all sins of commission except sloth. Self-doubt should be considered also as a sin of omission.
Sloth, which is excessive laziness or the failure to act and utilize one’s talents,10 made it to the list of the “deadly sins.” “Self-doubt,” which is far more damaging to a person than this sin called “sloth,” should be included in the list if only to make people conscious about it. People usually make a conscious effort of avoiding committing things that are considered sinful.
To overcome self-doubt it is important that a person traces the root causes. He should know what factors trigger his self-doubts and learn how to overcome them. If it is lack of knowledge and skills then he must exert efforts to learn and acquire those that he perceives he lacks. There is a possibility that the ones causing him to doubt himself and his capabilities are people… sometimes his own friends. Then by all means avoid them. Equally important it that he must surround himself with people who bring the best in him.
It may be easier said than done but it is important that a person maintains a positive outlook and thinks that there is nothing he cannot achieve or do if he wills it.