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The Improvement Of Teachers

Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Caleb Gattegno

Newsletter

vol. III no. 2

December 1973


First published in 1973. Reprinted in 2009. Copyright Š 1973-2009 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. Author: Caleb Gattegno All rights reserved ISBN 978-0-87825-272-5 Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc. 2nd Floor 99 University Place, New York, N.Y. 10003-4555 www.EducationalSolutions.com


The second issue of the third volume of our Newsletter is devoted to teacher improvement as we understand it at Educational Solutions. We have been very fortunate in securing the cooperation of a person of the standing of Mrs. Dellora Hercules, who since I968 has been closely watching our work with teachers in two elementary public schools in Harlem and the Bronx and heard from many people of what we were doing in other schools in and out of New York City. Other contributors have added their idea of what can be considered a new approach to teachers. News items appear again in this issue and will inform our staff and friends of the state reached by some of our projects. We hope to devote the next two issues of this newsletter to the work we do with paraprofessionals and supervisors of schools.


Table of Contents

Reflections On Teacher Preparation ..................................... 1 From A Supervisor ............................................................................. 1 Working With Teachers........................................................ 5 From A Contributor To The Improvement ............................ 9 News Items ......................................................................... 13 From Learning To Teaching.................................................17


Reflections On Teacher Preparation

From A Supervisor For many years I have been involved (both as a teacher and as a supervisor) in the preparation of teachers. In the past, we used a variety of methods all of which were aimed at giving the teacher a system for teaching each subject in the curriculum. The emphasis was usually on careful planning, and on knowing the content of the subject involved. The teachers’ approach was structured and they were assured that if they followed the plans and used the materials, learning would take place. It was always suggested that those children who did not learn most probably had learning disabilities or emotional disorders and should be referred to the guidance counselor or the school psychologist. Teachers were cautioned not to exceed the “attention span,” to be sure to use an “eclectic approach,” and to teach sequentially. Every lesson had to include a stated aim, motivation, a medial summary, and a conclusion. When supervisors observed teachers they looked for all of these points as well as for socialization, pupil to pupil questioning, provision for drill, and made careful note of how much the children remembered and how well they behaved. Teachers interpreted all of this to mean that they were to teach, drill, test and if necessary re-teach. If all these steps failed, the conclusion was that something was wrong with the children. Those of us who were responsible for teacher preparation in the inner city schools became frustrated and discouraged because our hard work brought so little success.

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The Improvement Of Teachers

Too many children were unable to read and many were failing in mathematics and showed little interest in the other areas of the curriculum. We sought help from “experts,” tried a variety of reading techniques, established classes for “disruptive” children, established a homework policy and explored the value of after school as well as summer school instruction. We also used the services of a guidance team — psychiatrist, social worker and guidance counselor. In 1968, through a series of fortunate events the school of which I was principal became the beneficiary of the services of Educational Solutions. Dr. Caleb Gattegno and his consultants came into the school to work with grades 1 to 3 in the areas of reading and mathematics. From the beginning, I saw that the teachers were being prepared in a manner totally different from any with which I was familiar. In the use of “Words in Color” they were becoming aware that the children had to be responsible for their own learning. The seminars for staff development dealt primarily with an investigation of all the methods and ways of teaching which had been so dear to our hearts. We were being led into an awareness that this way of working required a fearless break with one’s past ways. Many of us experienced pain, anger and insecurity after this questioning of our cherished opinions and fond prejudices. Many others were becoming aware of their powers, and were beginning to examine seriously and with clarity what their roles should be. Soon many children were reading and working in the area of mathematics with results which exceeded all expectations. Some pupils who had been classified as “disruptive” were working with purposefulness and attention for extended periods of time. There was a sense of excitement and freshness throughout the school. Even those teachers who were not initially involved were being touched. A few teachers were afraid of losing what they had used for so many years and clung tenaciously to their past. In 1971, I became a supervisor in the Twin Parks School, where I had the opportunity of renewing myself during the five week seminar which preceded the opening of the school. For these five weeks under the leadership of Dr. Gattegno, we (teachers, consultants, supervisors) undertook an uncharted journey during which we investigated and explored the ways in which we could meet the challenges which this

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Reflections On Teacher Preparation

new school presented. We undertook to examine a variety of issues, among them our convictions, our attitudes, our ways of looking and listening, the sense of truth, the meaning of “inner” criteria, and the meaning of the “educability of awareness.” We engaged in painful self exploration which only became easier as we learned to suspend judgment. Many of us had been proud of our knowledge, secure in our opinions, confident in our abilities, and comfortable with our status. We had in the past chosen teaching models and had followed these more or less slavishly according to our temperaments. Even those who had never taught before had made choices of models they would imitate, such as “open classroom,” “workshop” environment, and “self contained” classroom. Suddenly we found ourselves not only naked but without our crutches. While we were not all angry at the same time, there was no time when one of us was not angry and frightened at finding himself thus. There were also times of joy when we were intensely engaged in looking at a problem and when the air sparkled with the energy we were pouring forth. At the end of the seminar most of us were eager to put into action the insights we had gained during the seminar. We could not have failed to be aware that we had been engaged in a radically different experience of teacher preparation. Almost three years have passed and it is a good time as any to record some observations concerning this approach to staff development. Most observers would want to know whether there was an improvement in children’s learning and in the teaching skills of the teachers. The answer to both of these questions is an unqualified “yes.” Improvement on the part of the teachers and in teaching styles implies to me a better way of doing what was done before. Those who had not yet achieved freedom from the past had at least acquired what they considered to be new techniques, and inasmuch as they were better techniques the results were significantly superior. Such teachers, who rely largely on techniques and methods, are the ones who zealously guard the “method” and deplore any change or deviation. In spite of 3


The Improvement Of Teachers

this they are achieving success according to the goals which the teaching profession has established. There are others who have traveled far along the path toward freedom, who are aware that failure can illuminate, who know that there is no “method,” and who work only with the children’s strengths. They constantly try to create the challenges which will engage and expand these strengths. These teachers have changed dramatically. They have summoned up the tremendous energy required to bring about a new self. Their students are relying on their own sense of truth and do not require approval. In their classes the children are clearly responsible for their own learning. Their children are involved with knowing, they are not being fed “knowledge.” These teachers practice the “subordination of teaching to learning.” With such teachers inner city children have no handicaps. One is impressed with the atmosphere of joy in their rooms. There still remains the task of enlisting those few teachers who resist this way of working. Since teacher preparation is a never ending activity in our school we have the hope that soon they will realize that this way of working gives all of us (children and teachers) a way of using the time we have been given on earth in experiences which expand our awareness. Even the most objective observers of our school cannot fail to be struck by the enthusiasm of the children, and by the serious attention they give to their work. This is surely a result of having teachers who are better prepared (if one must compare); teachers who approach the monumental challenges facing our school as scientists. Dellora Hercules Coordinating Principal C.S.234/129 Bronx

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Working With Teachers

A common criticism of recent curriculum reforms is that many of them have failed because they only changed the content of teaching and left the method of teaching untouched. A more radical criticism would have to read that most reforms of teaching were bound to fail because they left teachers untouched. It is obvious that teachers must be the principal agents of any educational reform. They are the only people in a position to put reform into effect, to evaluate proposals from immediate experience, and to make a personal response to the unique demands of each student in a class. Yet it sometimes seems as if no one trusts teachers. They get blamed for past failures and, their poor record being established, they are given increasingly less responsibility for the future. Everyone can find examples of administrative policies, packaged programs, mechanistic hardware and software, that seem designed to diminish teachers. That some, perhaps many, teachers allow themselves to be diminished will not surprise anyone who has seen the acceptance by students of their diminution at the hands of some teachers. But let us take the positive side of the same analogy — that it is no more fair or fruitful to be contemptuous of teachers than it is for teachers to be contemptuous of students. At Educational Solutions we have inherited, developed and maintained an approach to teaching which demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt that it is improper to patronize students since all of

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them have ample powers to cope with anything that teachers can ask of them. Through our seminars, workshops, and on-site consultancies, we extend a similar approach with the same confidence to teachers. When I start to conduct a workshop with teachers, I know that •

the other members of the group have joined it voluntarily, some at considerable personal and financial cost;

each person has brought himself, rich in experience and accomplishments, but also encrusted with habits, misconceptions, fears, prejudices, beliefs masquerading as certainties, and so on;

each person, however much he knows, is very largely ignorant in the face of the world’s complexity, even of that small part of it with which the workshop is concerned;

each person will learn in his own way and take from the workshop only what seems to him to be in his own interest.

Against this background, I have to become as clear as I can about where my responsibilities lie and where they differ from the responsibilities of the rest of the group. Although I am concerned with the members of the group as teachers, I may not try to teach by proxy the students they teach. I am not entitled to tell the members of the group what to teach their students or how to teach it to them. That, quite definitely, is their responsibility and I must resist if they try to make me tell them what to do. In any case, how could I? The kind of teaching I would like to promote is one which is faithful to the reality of each classroom, not to a model or a theory of teaching; one which respects the autonomy of everyone in the classroom, including the teacher; one which is flexible and alert enough to move from moment-to-moment in touch with everyone’s contributions, as a good conversation does.

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Working With Teachers

To look upon each classroom as a unique place, each person in it as a unique individual, and the life of a classroom as a succession of unique events requiring an appropriate response from the teacher, only takes the classroom out of the realm of mythical and impersonal generalities in which it is often placed and puts it back into the mainstream of human experience of others. From this view point it becomes easier to see what a workshop should not attempt to do and catch a glimpse of what it should. Since whatever else he takes info a classroom, a teacher always takes himself, let a workshop be a place where he can spend time in preparing himself for future unpredictable encounters — in improving himself, if you will. My primary responsibility in conducting a workshop is to see that all the members of the group go away at the end more aware than when they came, and with increased confidence in, and respect for, themselves because they know what they have achieved. Because the teachers at my workshops are generally teachers of mathematics, I use mathematics as the medium through which I reach them, just as they must use it to reach the students they teach. We work on a number of situations that can easily be mathematized so that the members of the group catch themselves “functioning as mathematicians” — that is, being as competent at some skill as any mathematician would be in the same situation, or, using their perception of some relationships, arriving at definitions that yield consequences that any mathematician would accept to be true. Here each one can see that everything that each activity requires of him is already available, not confined to a special class of people called mathematicians, but present as part of his everyday equipment that he can use as much and as often as he wants to, once he knows it is there and has practiced using it. My part in this is to provide the situations, to ask the questions that will get the members of the group working, and ho allow their awarenesses to surface — by giving them responsibility for participating in all aspects of the study, encouraging them to observe themselves in action and to listen carefully to each other, challenging them to substantiate their contributions, making them take personal

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responsibility for what they say, pointing out what they have achieved with the little I have provided, and so on. Some time is set aside for “feedback” sessions, when the participants are invited to articulate the developments in their personal awareness. Out of this emerges, for many teachers, not only the increased awareness and confidence that I have been working for, but also at least a partial understanding of how, out of personal growth, can come a more enlivening, rigorous and effective mode of teaching. It is possible to see that changing teaching from a hit-and-miss affair to a more assured pedagogy is not a question of being able to predict what will happen in a classroom since no one can do that: it is the attainment of a certainty within the self that one will know what is best to do whatever happens when it happens. I cannot think of any result more desirable than this, or of any place better for a teacher to stand. No doubt “the improvement of teachers,” which is a possible description for the aim of such a workshop, is a potentially dangerous phrase and one to be used with caution. Setting aside the affective overtones of arrogance, of “knowing what’s best for ‘em,” it can, if left unqualified or unillustrated, be read as a maxim for manipulation. Why not improve teachers through genetic or racial selection? Why not improve teachers by the techniques of behavior modification? Why not improve them through evangelical exhortation? induced euphoria? increased financial rewards? the contagion of fashion? the desire for social approval? There are, God knows, plausible advocates of these methods too. At Educational Solutions we can only continue to work for the improvement of teachers in the way we know is right — working with them, with concern, but coolly, as skillfully as we know how, and always with deep respect. David H. Wheeler

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From A Contributor To The Improvement

Does it not seem reasonable to do all one can to bring about the improvement of schools by improving teachers? Who else will carry out the change in schools if teachers don’t? Ultimately only those in charge of the classrooms are entrusted with the day-to-day implementation of any reform — unless one sees teachers becoming the slaves of programmed instruction through machines as was unfortunately seriously proposed ten to fifteen years ago. When we say we are considering the improvement of teaching we can only mean that we are considering the improvement of teachers. What does this mean and how could it be achieved? In the last twenty or so years, mainly in this country, it has been discovered that in-service support is needed to assist teachers, who have already been trained in teacher colleges or departments of education, when they take charge of their classes. As college preparation leaves much to be desired, many kinds of consultants and resource specialists have been added to the school personnel to make the functioning of teachers more in keeping with the increased public demands upon them and with the implementation of innovations. In the United States many teachers are ready to pay to be improved even if the improvement is not well defined. From 1957 onwards, I 9


The Improvement Of Teachers

have attempted to make the definition of improvement a less obscure notion. At first, I suggested that teachers concentrate on learning and find out what their children need. This sounded too much like an endless quest and was soon replaced by my showing how I subordinated teaching to learning and managed to obtain a much greater yield per lesson. People saw that if teachers could do what I did, education would improve — i.e. fewer students would fail and more would find their time at school worthwhile. Not very many teachers who took workshops and seminars with me managed to see the invisible: that which makes things smooth. The center of my work became a continual recasting of what needed to be done for teachers, and with teachers, in order that all of them (or almost all of them) could obtain what a few had already obtained. Indeed, even if the hardest task had been surmounted, and a clear definition of what subordination of teaching to learning actually meant in the basic areas of the native language, foreign languages and mathematics, the main job required the proper involvement of teachers. Until now teachers have been led to expect that someone will take the responsibility of guiding them hour after hour in their classrooms. Such a procedure contradicts the fact that only a particular teacher, a singular person, faces a number of unique individuals who are meeting what they do not yet know. Their style, their background, their present moods and circumstances are unknown to everyone but those who meet them here and now. Hence to produce a teacher’s guide is to misguide teachers, making them believe that there are universals that a writer knows about and that can be used by those who are supposed not to have any other access to them. As I have constantly studied how it might be possible to make what I know available to others, I have come to see that the only way open to me is to put my cards on the table and let teachers see how I am guided by the presence of specific learners confronting specific challenges. If I have managed to find criteria it is these that I have to share, and these that will help teachers improve themselves to the point that they do not 10


From A Contributor To The Improvement

need me any more. If they see that my guides are the students and not an idea or a technique, they will also take their students as guides. Hence I give time in my seminars and workshops to the study of epistemology, i.e. the science of how we actually know in various fields. Everyone engaged in learning can do this for himself if he is interested. Key questions are: what role does my perception play in what I am studying? which are the inner movements that help and which that hinder learning? which actions help perception to deepen its acquaintance with a challenge? does verbalization serve or impede progress? what sorts of awarenesses are we concerned with in these circumstances? are there hierarchies of notions that must be followed to ensure mastery at every level and lead to mastery of the whole? And many other questions have been left out of this list. The improvement of teachers results from their correct awareness of the task and the certainty that their actions will lead to lasting and useful learning. This certainty translates itself into the feeling that in the self there is a reserve of affectivity, of spiritual energy, which maintains high hopes and nourishes the imagination, control, relaxation, the capacity to relate simultaneously to each student and to the task at hand. Once certainty exists an autonomous educator is born. There is nothing magical in this. Indeed since education can only be an education of awareness, the improvement of teachers can only proceed from a deeper awareness of awareness. This is the birthright of every individual person even if it has only been found very recently in man’s history and evolution. Those who achieve it by themselves say only that they chose a certain occupation rather than any one of those which make others into the thousands of successful contributors to all fields. Educators who are bent on being successful in their field will not rest until they discover that what they need to work on, and become expert in, is their own awareness. The rest follows from it. In our present seminars and workshops, in our demonstrations and experimental studies, the light we shed is on awareness, which even if 11


The Improvement Of Teachers

it is slow in being shared by all, is shared by more and more every day. Educators launched on this path can only become more demanding of themselves and thus make their own improvement equal to the evolution of their own awareness. Once they are at this stage we can be sure that they have taken upon themselves their continuous improvement and can become the centers of a contagion that will increase the number of those affecting education positively. Because of the immense reward that deeper awareness represents to those who have reached it, this kind of improvement of teachers is the least expensive for society at large. Because of its genuineness many of the dysfunctions of teaching disappear, and fatigue, anxiety and fears of all sorts become things of the past. The teacher aware of what is involved in teaching is a beacon, a source of inspiration that will bring back to him or her the energy showered upon his or her charges; joy is experienced in this classroom. This is the measure of improved teaching, of the presence of a teacher who has improved himself or herself in the only way that makes such teaching possible. Caleb Gattegno

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News Items

1 On November 17th, Educational Solutions Inc., acted as hosts to a delegation of linguists from the People’s Republic of China who were on a study tour of a number of institutions in the United States that were known to have contributed to the progress of language teaching. The tour was organized by the National Committee for U.S.-China Relations and included visits to Washington, D.C., New York City, Boston, Seton Hall, San Francisco and Hawaii. The delegation spent four days in New York City and had intensive seminars and examined installations at Columbia University, the Modern Language Association and New York University. They also came to our headquarters to be introduced to The Silent Way and see classes taught by this “novel” approach. The members of the delegation expressed their intention of looking more carefully at what they considered to be a very different set of premises from those they held. On that occasion, an exhibition of the Chinese Words in Color for the teaching of reading to Chinese-speaking people, showed that a difficult challenge was being tackled by Educational Solutions in a manner dictated by the problem. Our solution, however unexpected in its form, is another proof that the science of education serves its practitioners. 2 In our previous Newsletter we neglected to mention that a oneweek seminar on teaching reading to the deaf had been held last September at our premises. Its purposes was to receive some feedback from people engaged in classroom work or in clinic work with the deaf to an exposure to our Absolute Visual Reading proposal. During that

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week it became clear that a number of the techniques and materials we offer have a distinctive power and can be expected to reduce the load on the teachers of the deaf who have to teach reading. Since then we have had opportunities in New York City and State, in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont and in Europe (England, France, Switzerland) to show the first part of the film we have made for this program. An invitation to a one-day seminar next January 16th, 1974 , sent to people all over the United States, has been so well received that we may have to add another day to accommodate all the registrants. In April, a second week long workshop will take place to train the first group of teachers of reading to the deaf in the uses of the techniques and materials we have developed. By then the planned total of 30 minutes of film will be ready. 3 We are correcting proofs of the new book The Common Sense of Teaching Mathematics by Dr. Caleb Gattegno. We hope to have it ready for sale next March. This book is the first to appear in the field of mathematics since Dr. Gattegno came to the States. It is hoped that the part of the title — The Common Sense of Teaching — will become a signature of our coming publications for teachers in the various fields in which we are making a contribution. 4 While it was relatively easy to produce a French and a Spanish version of the book of A Thousand Sentences because France and Spain could easily represent the center of culture for the peoples who use these languages, when we came to the English language we found it difficult to decide how to cater for the English-speaking public. Some people wanted the English usages and others the U.S. usages. There are so many differences between the cultures of countries using different varieties of English as their vernacular that- we had to resort to separate volumes to remain comprehensible at all. The first one to appear, early in 1974, will be the U.S. version. We hope that it will serve the ESL public as well as the other two have done for over 10 years in their respective languages.

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News Items

5 During his visit to Europe last November, Dr. Gattegno had an opportunity to meet with groups of educators in five different centers and to assess the renewed interest of European educators in the improvement of education through the improvement of teachers. In London, at Digby Stuart College of Education, the seminar was on knowing preschool children and meeting their needs in nursery and infant schools. Fifty participants, some having traveled hundreds of miles to attend, agreed that no improvement will be possible in those areas unless some of the new approaches to young children became better known. In Southport (Lancashire) a group of about eighty administrators and teachers worked all day on Words in Color and the reasons why this approach to reading can be called a solution. Traveling from the north of England to Geneva through the fog that covered Europe, Dr. Gattegno found in this city that 75 people were ready to travel hundreds of miles for a weekend seminar with him. The topic was “Autonomy and its place in Education.� Teaching for the purpose of making students into autonomous thinkers, having criteria of their own which guide them in their moves, became a basis for a new start for many participants. The first Sunday in Geneva without cars on the road because of the oil crisis, added inconveniences which were taken in their stride by enthusiastic participants. In France, the crisis was not felt and only the first snow of the year changed the famous Parisian fall days into wintry ones. The two seminars in Paris were on The Silent Way, especially the teaching of English, and on the teaching of mathematics; with special reference to the present revolt of French teachers against a reform that is considered disastrous. Sympathetic and substantial audiences in both places made these two days in Paris look like possible openings for future expansion of Educational Solutions’ contribution to French education.

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6 Finally the first few minutes of an animated film for the teaching of Amharic were completed in mid-November. In three and a half minutes about one eighth of the written language was covered in a way that all learners who have sight can make sense of. Thus, in about thirty minutes the difficulties of a language, known to be very challenging to native students, can be dealt with through the medium of television. Several exposures of viewers to the films will make them look at reading as naturally as they do the spoken language.

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From Learning To Teaching

I visited Educational Solutions for the first time in January of 1970. I had read in a book by James Moffett that Words in Color was the best approach to teaching reading and spelling, and I had come, with my wife and a colleague from City College plagued with student spelling problems, to see if what Moffett said was true. We didn’t find out that day. But we did learn that the man in the far corner of the seminar room working so mysteriously (just out of earshot) with colored charts, a pointer and an eight year old boy was Dr. Gattegno. We also found out that he taught weekend workshops in the teaching of mathematics and foreign languages as well as of reading. That, and our guide’s comment that he had taught 17 years before meeting Dr. Gattegno without realizing that he had been teaching the wrong way, added to our interest and our sense of something novel in the setup of the place and in its atmosphere. Partly because of these impressions and partly because my wife was a teacher of Italian, we decided to attend the next workshop on teaching languages the “Silent Way.” My own curiosity about Dr. Gattegno and his methods of teaching also stemmed from my experiences as a teacher. I had recently decided not to finish my doctoral dissertation and to devote my time instead to the problems of teaching freshman English and introductory literature courses. Moffett’s book had caught my attention because so much of it

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dealt with teaching reading and writing. I was looking for a book with answers. At the time I had been teaching for about 7 years. I knew I was not a very effective teacher, but I kept at it with the conviction that if I tried enough different approaches, I would sooner or later find something that worked. My main technique for exploring new approaches was to use a different kind of book each semester. It seemed to me that if I could just find the right arrangement of subject matter, I would be able to interest my students in reading literature and writing essays. Outside of my recollections of traditional English grammar and my training in literary criticism, I knew very little about language. I assumed that my awareness of stylistic features like metaphor and diction was an adequate basis for teaching. If I could just get the right arrangement of content. . . For a while, I also believed that if I dramatized my own enthusiasm for literature, my students would catch fire too. It didn’t work out in practice, and I gradually dropped the idea. I invented theories to explain the dead ends in my teaching experience. I speculated that my students’ sensibilities had been so damaged by the time they reached college that they were no longer capable of appreciating good writing. Sometimes I felt that I didn’t have the right kind of personality to be a good teacher. At other times I felt sure that I was really a fascinating person and that this would soon be noticed by my students. With these and other shifts, I kept myself going. That first workshop in 1970 showed me I had been looking for answers in the wrong places. Two moments in particular stand out. During one of them I suddenly experienced the change of inflection I heard in a Russian noun as the change in the situation I was acting out with the

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Algebricks. It sounds quite dull and ordinary I suppose, but to me it was a shock and a revelation of the first magnitude. An hour later, I had a similar experience while learning to read Hindi. Having taught us to speak some of the language, Dr. Gattegno launched us into decoding the script. When I looked at the seeming chaos of what we were to sort out, I felt it was too difficult to even attempt. I couldn’t immediately explain to myself why each of these moments had been so intensely exhilarating. As the workshop went on, however, I began to see some of the many angles to the experience. I could see, for example, that I had never thought much about any exact relationships between grammatical inflections and the realities of perception and action. I remembered vaguely having heard that Greek tenses showed a different time sense from English tenses, and I had read some analyses of poems based on like ideas. But these were merely interesting ideas I had heard about. I had never connected a particular experience — I mean the precise quality of the experience — with grammar. I had never seen an inflection before as I did on that weekend. In the same way, I had never really experienced what writing was in its most basic sense. I had never before consciously watched the moments in which the parade of written signs passed into the succession of spoken sounds. It was as if I had never even guessed at the most fundamental properties of language. And these, I could see, were only two of the many places in my conscious experience where I had never looked for answers. I saw too, that I had learned all this from someone who never said a word about if. He had merely placed me in a situation where it was almost inevitable that I find the secrets for myself — the secret about language and the secret “this is what you are always doing, whether you know it or not, things just like these, these endless transitions from one world or system to another, this is essentially what you are, all these transformations, all the time.” It was difficult for me to see how I could have lived with all that for so long and never seen it, how I could have been so wrong about myself and, of course, about others. I found it difficult to think about teaching 19


The Improvement Of Teachers

subject matter. It had seemed so substantial before, filling so many books. Now it appeared quite unreal to me. What had I imagined I was teaching? What had I imagined I was? My head felt too full. I remembered the man who had told me that when he met Gattegno, he realized that he’d been doing the wrong thing for his past 17 years as a teacher. It wasn’t a provocative remark to me now. It just sounded like common sense. I left the workshop feeling elated and depressed by turns. Elated at my self-discovery and depressed by not knowing what to do with it. I could see clearly that I had turned some kind of corner in my life, stumbled onto a knowledge and a way of working that wouldn’t leave me any peace till I worked out its implications. In the past four years, the working out of these implications has been my chief preoccupation. For three of those years I have had unusual freedom in what and how to teach. Through still other good luck I have been able to associate with Len Allison and others who also got their start on a new life in teaching through contact with Dr. Gattegno. In the process of giving workshops on college campuses and demonstrations at professional conferences, I have had the invaluable experience of working with hundreds of other teachers, trying to spark their interest in a new way of working. And finally, I have spent perhaps a thousand hours observing Dr. Gattegno teaching and studying with him in workshops. Yet with all these advantages, I find in my personality formidable resistance to change. I have slowly come around to seeing the necessity for myself of more intensive work, and this conclusion has brought me to think that we are going to have to invent new structures for the reeducation of adults if we are to produce teachers strong enough and free enough to educate children to live in a new way. I don’t feel much optimism about any immediate, large-scale improvements in teaching. But I feel fuller than ever of the hope I found in my first contact with Dr. Gattegno when I discovered, at the top of the list of things I didn’t know about, my self. Robert Perrault 20


About Caleb Gattegno Caleb Gattegno is the teacher every student dreams of; he doesn’t require his students to memorize anything, he doesn’t shout or at times even say a word, and his students learn at an accelerated rate because they are truly interested. In a world where memorization, recitation, and standardized tests are still the norm, Gattegno was truly ahead of his time. Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1911, Gattegno was a scholar of many fields. He held a doctorate of mathematics, a doctorate of arts in psychology, a master of arts in education, and a bachelor of science in physics and chemistry. He held a scientific view of education, and believed illiteracy was a problem that could be solved. He questioned the role of time and algebra in the process of learning to read, and, most importantly, questioned the role of the teacher. The focus in all subjects, he insisted, should always be placed on learning, not on teaching. He called this principle the Subordination of Teaching to Learning. Gattegno travelled around the world 10 times conducting seminars on his teaching methods, and had himself learned about 40 languages. He wrote more than 120 books during his career, and from 1971 until his death in 1988 he published the Educational Solutions newsletter five times a year. He was survived by his second wife Shakti Gattegno and his four children.

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The Improvement Of Teachers  
The Improvement Of Teachers  

Newsletter, Vol. III No. 2, December 1973

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