“One might say that he teaches best who teaches least.” –John Milton Gregory

My friend brings me Howard Hendricks’ book, Teaching to Change Lives, and I’m struck by this quote by educator John Milton Gregory. He writes:

“The true function of the teacher is to create the most favorable conditions for self-learning. . . True teaching is not that which gives knowledge, but that which stimulates pupils to gain it. One might say that he teaches best who teaches least.”

John Milton Gregory

I think about what it means to create “favorable conditions for learning.” I think about how to engage both freshmen and senior college students with relevant, impactful, and useful material that makes them want and need more for themselves. I redesign lesson plans for greater buy-in and promised pay-off. Sometimes I ask myself, “What changes if I’m not in the room?” If my presence as a teacher doesn’t matter–and the material just speaks for itself–there’s no point in being there. There’s no teaching happening. So what am I really doing? Maybe this: A teacher enlivens the knowledge and brings an authentic, vulnerable experience of it to the classroom. A teacher sets the direction and opens the gate, but if she hasn’t inspired anyone to take the journey, she’s not teaching.

I think, too, about modeling self-learning. A self-learner values growth, change, improvement, goal-setting, and reflection. A self-learner isn’t stagnant or solely relying on experience as a form of expertise. What a journey the teaching life is! It doesn’t end, and I’m thankful that Parker Palmer’s words still ring true: “We teach what we most need to learn.”

True teaching is not that which gives knowledge, but that which stimulates pupils to gain it. One might say that he teaches best who teaches least. John Milton Gregory Click To Tweet

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