Educators' Perspectives

The Teacher as a Philosopher

Chanakya Vyas – Theatre Department
Head Start Educational Academy

In the last eight years of teaching Theatre at Head Start Educational Academy, I have realised that being a teacher is a creative endeavour. The tag of creativity is often attached to artists, but that is a very limited view of the word ‘creativity’ itself, as the etymology of the word creō means "to create, make". A teacher has to create and find unique ways of sharing knowledge about a topic, phenomenon, or idea with the children by carefully designing a plan and a flow of thought, which will keep them engaged and excited to learn. Teaching is a collaborative act and collaboration is one of the building blocks of creativity.

Now imagine a teacher entering a noisy, high energy classroom. Some children would go quiet, some would continue talking to friends, some may ignore, and some might be very excited as to what they would be learning in class. Where to begin? How to begin? These two questions engulf the mind of the teacher every time they enter a class; and hence, teaching itself is an act or a roleplay, where the role of the teacher is to be able to communicate ideas through feelings in front of a classroom and children are regarded as one of the toughest audience members to please.

It is during these times that teachers often hit a roadblock and get used to a particular system of codes, which I would call a ‘bag of tricks’. A Theatre teacher might use usual games or group exercises as a starting point, a Physics teacher might use an experiment as a starting point, a Math teacher might write down a sum on the board, and so on and so forth. These codes or tricks over a period of time make the teacher comfortable, confident, and at ease with their subject matter. But then, a teacher has to constantly evolve, isn’t it? If the world is changing, so is the child’s perspective; and hence, a teacher is the first set of keys from a bunch of other keys who can unlock the hidden meaning of the outside world. In hindsight, the classes I enjoyed the most as a student were those where I stepped out with a different meaning of life and world view. I stepped out as a different person. So how do teachers challenge themselves?

The reason I decided to write this piece is because of a recent experience of working with children aged six and seven years old, which is not the age group I usually work with at school. I was prepared for the uphill task, but little did I know that none of my existing tricks or codes would actually help me reach out to them. I stood there wondering, where do I begin? How do I begin? Like writers often say, it is easy to begin and end a story. The middle is the tough part. I would say it’s the inverse for an educator: the beginning and end are difficult while the middle is easy. One may ask how? Well, I think the answer lies in the title of this piece––I see the role of a teacher first as a philosopher and then as a teacher. Philosophy allows one to be open minded and react and respond to impulses that are thrown in the moment. And a teacher is faced with new challenges and impulses everyday. So first and foremost, a teacher needs to be a philosopher in order to accept that the codes of yesterday or last year may only guide us but are never set in stone. After all, we are not just dealing with head counts, we are dealing with many complex, layered, unique human minds in one classroom.

While interacting with six and seven year olds, I also realised that the way they look at abstraction and imagination is very different from the older ones. They are strongly rooted in reality. Hence, every aspect of their activity needs to have a logical framework of why they are doing what they are doing. In a theatre class, we often kindle their imagination by creating situations that can be funny, fantastical, and absurd at times; and through those situations, we encourage them to think about their everyday lives. Needless to say, their observations and reflections are extremely profound. For instance, we were discussing about why objects have shapes; and whether there are things around us that do not have a shape, or keep changing shape. One child exclaimed, “clouds,” and another immediately followed up by saying, “but clouds have shapes.” To that, the other replied, “but they keep changing.” At this point, I, as a teacher, had to put forth a larger question about the shape of things: how some things change as per the situation and time and some don’t. This also pushed me to think about the larger philosophical question of what makes us change our beliefs, opinions, and ideas about life. Of course, by the time I could articulate it to myself, the class was over and I was left wondering as to how one’s teaching philosophy also needs to change and evolve over a period of time just like the shape of clouds.