One of the most critical aspect of teaching, around which the relationship between teachers and students is built is the ability to maintain this notion of ‘Intelectual harmony’. By intelectual harmony, I refer to a state of mind in which a student is mentally comfortable enough to express his ideas, expose its questions and share its doubts. Yet, despite being at ease communicating with its tutor/teacher, the intelectual harmony I am refering too wouldn’t allow the student to express every single thought poping out of his mind. That harmony would imply that the student would be concerned about the validity and relevance of it’s own cognitive processes. In such a setting, a student is as eager to learn and ask questions as he is to impress his teacher by replying eloquently and refraining from irrelvant questions.
The question one might ask is, how is such an intelectual ‘homeostasis’ reached? How does one create an environment suitable for a student to develop both its intelect and personality? I guess this question can have different answers depending on the level of maturity of the students your teaching. You cannot expect a 10 year old student to be aware of such a balance between curiosity and self restraint, but for teaching experiences involving mature individuals, It often comes down to a collaboration from the teacher and the student. I’ve realized this duality while teaching myself. When lecturing at university, I never consciously had to make an effort to maintain a suitable athmosphere of learning. It came very naturally. The maturity level of students I was teaching was such that almost immediately after having started the class, an unspoken, unthaught, almost instinctive tranquility was established between us, one that was exactly the definition of the so called ‘intelectual harmony’.
This harmony is not as easily and effortlessly attained while teaching younger students. I’ve been tutoring a 12 year old boy for few months now and I have to admit that while teaching him, I have to get hold of a significant amount of resilience just to maintain some sort of positivity. Those who have thaught to younger students know that one tends to osscillate between two very distinct states of mind. The first one is a state of frustration, and sometimes anger. These particular emotions rise when you are explaining something that either seems trivial to you and hence, you expect your student to understand it instantly, or when you have to explain a notion that had already been covered and understood. During those moments, the anger is not just directed at the student. Some negative energy also arises when you realize that your efforts, time and energy did not bear fruits. Not only did the student fail at understanding a concept that once was understood, your time spent teaching him became meaningless, and you have to start all over again. As soon as this frustration takes over your intelect, your negativity is palpable. You sigh, you become more serious and show signs of annoyance. At this point, another realization strikes : you are dealing with a kid. And having to explain again a notion once learnt but forgotten is very much a part of a natural process of learning. At this point, another state of mind takes over. A state in which the student is again at the center of the discussion. But this time, you realize that your student reacts to your exasparation. When you sigh, he becomes nervous. When your face becomes serious, he becomes insecure. Once so approachable, you become inaccessible in his eyes.
It is at this point, that the shift happens. In order to reclaim the positive athmosphere that is needed to foster a students intelect, you become gentle and patient again. You take into account the young students reality, you remind your self that you were once in the shoes of the child sitting in front of you. Your voice softens and your eyes shine again. When teaching with younger kids, the intelectual harmony is attained when a balance is reached between a natural frustation rising from a teachers disapointment when it’s student fails, and a characteristcal patience needed for every teacher to convey complex thoughts. When you can be firm enough to make your student realize that he has disapointed you, yet patient enough to allow him time to learn, only then will you reach that ‘intelectual harmony’.
Often, when I try to visualize how this harmony is expressed in different spheres of life, I end up thinking about the meeting point between the ocean’s might and the rivers patience. I’ve often associated the ocean’s strenght and depth with that of an almighty and infinite knowledge, which would inavitably come with demanding and stringent expectations. At its opposite, you have a patient river, wearing a much more gentle flow, and speaking in a soft and appeasing voice. The Quran mentions this meeting of these two opposite forces in Surah Rahman as a miracle and a sign of God’s existence. When you think about it, teaching is no less a miracle than other marvelous phenomenon described in the Quran. Since education has become such a trivialised concept, a right more than a privilege, one tends to forget that pragmatically speaking, teaching is nothing else than a miraculous transfer of knolwedge from a mind to another, whithout the use of any physical connection. Whenever I come to this realization, soft and subtle whispers of a familiar quranic passage find refuge on my lips: So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny?