I’ve been reading The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path by Ethan Nichtern. The book is full of concepts that have helped me think about life in general including relationships, research, and teaching. In one of the chapters, Nichtern outlines three types of guidance as it relates to finding and/or being a teacher. These are the instructor, the teacher/mentor, and the guru. I am going to be exploring each of these concepts with you, and each one will be getting its own post.
I’m not entirely sure how I will go about posting these. Could be once a month, or this whole thing could be done in three weeks. It depends on if I want to work in any additional posts about how my courses are going. But for now, let’s get started by talking about the first type of guidance: The Instructor
What is The Instructor?
Nichtern starts by defining the instructor as, “…any representative, teacher, or guide, from whom you receive information on teachings or practice, which you are then left to incorporate into life primarily on your own,” (pg. 165).
In this sense, we are all instructors. And, I think you will find that we are all probably a blend of these three forms – most of us are probably a blend of the instructor and the teacher/mentor, and most of us have been students under these two models.
What Does Instruction Look Like in this Model?
When you experience something under an instructional model, Nichtern states that teachings are in a “one-directional manner.” That is, information is delivered to you in any variety of capacities, but no one is there to help you process it or implement. Nichtern acknowledges that reading his book is a form of instruction. I am reading it, but I am not able to interact with him about the concepts. I am left on my own to make sense of the ideas and how to use them.
Given that, we can see how instruction can take many forms. It can be from reading a text, watching a video, or following a set of directions around an activity. My understanding is that the person who designed an activity or wrote a text/video is not available for you to directly access for further discussion and assistance.
Having the person present – the actual instructor – is not a guarantee that you will shift off of this one-directional approach. Think about taking a course in a huge lecture hall. Can you interact with the professor? Perhaps – but it will be limited if at all. You are listening to the lecture and getting the information in a one-directional approach. That doesn’t mean there is no place for a lecture. I’m just pointing out that having the person who wrote the lecture present doesn’t elevate this to a different model.
But It’s Not Just About the Instructor
I have said this before here – class is a good as you want to make it. Nichtern highlights this when stating, “…an instructor can’t ensure that we put the instructions we receive into practice, it’s up to us to show up fully to the learning process,” (pg. 166).
This brings me back to my class as experience post. I can only do so much. At some point, the responsibility shifts over to the student. And, as Nichtern argues, it is important that the student show up both fully and mindfully. This requires students to be present and in the moment with class. It requires them to trust the instructor/teacher and to potentially go out on a limb and do things that they don’t want to do. If the student will not show up and engage with the learning process then there is little we can do. We can’t make it happen.
Nichtern points out that it’s important as a student to be mindful even if you are not interacting with anyone face to face. If all the student is doing is sitting down to read a text, then they need to create the time and space to do that in a mindful and engaged manner.
The Instructor Model is Part of the Process
The instructor model is an embedded part of teaching and learning. I’m sure you can identify ways you have experienced it (right now, you are experiencing it by reading this post) as well as how you utilize it in your teaching. But for most of us, as professors, I imagine that the instructor model is blended into the teacher/mentor model. While experiences provided under the instructor model are important to learning, they do not provide any real mechanism for feedback and learning argues Nichtern.
I agree with Nichtern and how he’s got this laid out. The instructor model seems pretty basic, and you probably already knew about it even if you hadn’t thought about it the way Nichtern describes it. But it’s an important foundational piece as we move forward in discussing teacher/mentor and guru. As we progress through this discussion, I hope to delve more into how these three models intertwine and dance with each other as well as highlight the complexities of teaching in and through them.