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…and gladly teach

Charles Lipson teaches international politics among other things at the University of Chicago. In “‘Last lecture’ a lesson in great teaching too,” Professor Lipson takes the occasion of the death of Randy Pausch last week to meditate on what it means to be a great teacher. Professor Lipson writes:

[T]eachers like Pausch do two things at once. On one level, they convey specific ideas and analytic methods and then help students absorb them and respond creatively. They spend hours showing students how to differentiate equations, interpret Hamlet’s soliloquies or splice DNA. In my own classes, I explore why wars and trade disputes occur, and how states sometimes manage to avoid them.

Explaining issues like these is central to education, but it is only half the job. The best teachers also serve as models for students. Good teachers bestow their love of learning, their willingness to work hard and their ability to think imaginatively to unravel the mysteries. Those lessons can launch students on their own paths—the real goal of any teacher.

Professor Lipson’s reflections go a long way to explaining the relationship that a great teacher creates with his students. He forges bonds that have at least a little in common with the bonds that exist by nature between parents and their children:

Good teaching points students toward important questions, gives them the tools they need to inquire and inspires them to continue exploring for themselves. Ultimately, every teacher lets go and hopes the students can proceed on their own—and hopes that they will want to.

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