The Joy of Teaching: in praise of praxis

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× Does practice make perfection? Or, perfection makes practice?


As you may already appreciate practicing something over and over again is the very basis for learning. The same can be said of teaching, a profession that I entered quite some time ago. Both teaching and learning require repetition it is a necessity for the inner workings and movements of the two processes. Being an ESL teacher has not always been a job that I have been comfortable with yet recently rediscovering the joy of teaching has changed this for me. So, this small post puts down these thoughts and enables a space for reflection. Working in Japan was perhaps lessened by my own arrogance and blind belief in my own perspective; unfiltered from personal aspiration and being hasty all too hasty I left Tokyo to study for another degree. I have very little to regret about these decisions only that I should have been more organised regarding these changes. Yet, working at Shane English Conversation school really transformed me into a teacher and that is what I am today.


The word praxis contains a special meaning. It can be used to suggest some form of practice that has become so important and frequent that it is unavoidable when doing something. Karl Marx saw it as the active agency of the human subject able to create itself and alter the environment it exists in. As a practice teaching young learners can be somewhat testing you need patience and always remember that your students are very inexperienced. Talking to a good friend of mine who shares some experiences working with youngsters reminded me of their lack of filter. Very young children have yet to develop strong associations to their environment and so they are easy to inspire. Whatever you do just keep it fun. Children also embody the very primordial, instinctual, and strange capacity of humans to fluctuate between bad and good behaviour. Being a teacher does not mean you are exempt from such fluctuations and I’ve often thought that my teaching is too dependent on a mechanical, automated, repetitive, and drill based manner.


For a lot of the children I teach regularly the need for drilling only becomes apparent after they have acquired a basic well of words they understand. Then you can start to encourage the use of phrases through drills. The task of turning a drill into an act of play is one of my current daily dilemma’s because young and old people prefer the freedom of playing/gaming to the mundane practice of standardized knowledge production. It is in an incomplete understanding that the joy of teaching (finding or showing the right information for others?) can be found. A good book for thinking about the ordering of information is Cesar Hidalgo’s book which I enjoyed. Anyway, In the ordering of the perspective of others you can find a lot of happiness and appreciation. Seen as though I am in China I want to re-post a very warm mandarin phrase from Confucius; of particular comfort to teachers (If your interested in Confucius give this a read >>>).


To answer the starting couplet of questions, ‘practice makes practice’, or ‘practice is the perfecting of practice’ are sufficient answers because they encourage more to be done and more doing leads to a kind of continuity all humans experience.

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× Memories of Ex-Students and recent Time Well Spent


The first group of Children I taught are called Rimi, Yuzuki, Saki, and Reo in Shinjuku. The first lesson everyone was so quite including myself. Over time, through Reo’s naughty-ness and Rimi’s attempt to blind me, Saki and Yuzuki’s awesome ability to speak English we tore through the rigidity of the curriculum. On Wednesday in Meguro with Yoshihiko, Yumiko, Maki, Hiroko, Hiroaki, and Kenji you really refreshed me after a whole week of regulated and grading my use of English. You allowed me to speak naturally and it always felt great to speak closer to my natural way of speaking. Yuriko, you were only two years old when I persuaded you and your mum to take my class we were soon joined by Jyunya a ferocious individualist and our lessons remained fun. Kenta, Hirosashi, Riku, Minami, and Sana all of you youngsters were and remain awesome. Kazuko and Tadachika I miss our private lessons and weekly dialogues. Ema and kantaro I hope you have both found your way with English I fully appreciate how difficult learning a foreign language can be.


Here in Beijing I have met many more cool little people and have had the pleasure of being called both Sensei and lăo shī. There are too many names to list here in China so I will just talk a little bit about what I have been doing. I have been helping these youngsters acquire the basic structures of English: letters, sounds, words, sentences, songs, and pictures. What is striking is the speed at which some children can progress and this in turn makes me ponder the way in which our bodies are programmed to absorb information but also this information is then activated by social interaction. Interacting as a group takes the same information and creates the same relation but in a different form within a persons mind. If you doubt this then conduct a simple experiment ask children or people to write the same letter, line, or shape. You will notice it is simultaneously the thing itself but also carries a marked difference. Teaching hones in on these things that you may overlook once you have learned them. I know appreciate the energy, disenchantment, and enthusiasm of children. Although, I can not possibly revert back to childhood and why would I want to? I am grateful to be working with young people.


× Changes in the Nature of Learning, Educating, and Teaching


When everyone has access to the same information instantaneously then what happens to the established notions of knowledge? How is it possible that we maintain faith in figures whom traditionally create knowledge? People like teachers, writers, artists, designers, researchers, explorers, and scientists all have to determine and define their identity through a perspective anchored to that of knowledge. The teacher possesses knowledge to be able to teach. The author expresses knowledge of the world in an act of writing. Artists wield creative knowledge of all kinds and designers need knowledge of designing so as to create new things. Researchers explorers and scientists are all glued to the phenomena of knowledge and the learned behaviour of knowing. The reason I state this is because since the advent of dial up internet and the birth of Wikipedia knowledge started to be distributed more freely and so its role in cultures and societies became more visible. Rather than seeing the common narrative that knowledge is an enabling thing. I saw the opposite a divisive thing. Something that moves humans more than we move it.


Evidence for this suggestion resides primarily in the absurd use of numbers and numerical accuracy in the creation of standards. Having a standard is a symbol of a human need to understand the quality of a thing, yet observe how often standards are imposed on people. In my view we seem to have already succumbed too much to this mode of acceptance: to have access to that which is true one must necessarily have knowledge. Yet there is something that ancient subjects possessed that was healthier than this necessary possessive mode of knowing. This something goes by the name of understanding and it is something that could reverse the problem of inequality simply because it is a) natural, b) continuous, and c) not something humans can subject to privatization. The difference could be ordered in the following way: knowledge (1≠0) and understanding (1≡1…). Seemingly simplistic this difference should not be hastily understood. But this simple logical difference between ≠ and ≡ allows me to make my point.

If we translate the symbols back into natural language we get ‘not equal to’ and ‘equal to’ and so the simple difference is extremely clear. Knowledge denies equality rather than affirm it and herein we see a fashionable Anglo-Saxon monstrosity that asserts the unequal as that which has to be accepted as natural. Yet, do not read me as saying difference itself is bad. What I am saying is that the disruptive qualities knowledge has regarding the creation of human behaviour is damning. That is why as a teacher and student I favor seminars over lectures and understanding over knowledge.

I feel like I have not really expressed any changes: so I will just finish with another sentence. Artificial Intelligence and it’s development along with the internet and technological communication will show that we as humans are naturally predisposed to understanding because its closer to appreciation of that which is common; the very change that makes possible the hues of all colors.

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