Learning to Unlearn|May 11, 2008 7:54 AM| by:

The Task of the Teacher

The first task of the teacher is to maintain the class environment well supplied with objects of interest suited to the varied grading of his students. He has to prepare the work-sheets—a considerable work—and the related documentation (photos, pictures, etc.). The second task is to organise and maintain the good-will of the students. For this purpose the teacher must carefully observe the behaviour of every student and detect any sign of boredom, fatigue or restlessness, any hitch in the normal functioning of the class. He must find the cause of the disturbance and remove the obstruction.

It is wrong to believe that the teacher should constantly goad his students into activity. The urge to work must come from the student himself. The teacher is there only to canalise the interest of the child and supply a constructive outlet to his activity.

During the first stage (adaptation) the teacher’s role is mainly to see that the necessary equipment is available, to eliminate obstacles due to a faulty organisation of the class-work, to smoothen and facilitate the adaptation of the children to the new method.

During the second stage (responsibility) he should help the students to organise their work and show them the way to responsibility. His intervention should always be restrained, tactful and unassuming. He should avoid pushing himself forward and act only when requested.

Especially in speech, he should be moderate and discreet. In most cases, the initiative of speech should come from the student and the teacher’s answer should fit exactly to the student’s question.

Indeed the teacher must guard himself against reverting to the old outlook, i.e., the attitude of one who has the knowledge and whose duty it is to impart it to the student. There are very subtle forms of this reversion and the teacher will find that the return of old habits has disastrous results. Many people may think that the teacher has now a reduced role and that he may as well be dispensed with. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His presence is of paramount importance: it must be constant and total. The success of the class will depend on the correctness of his attitude towards the children, on his psychological insight, his forbearance, self-mastery, his devotion to the work and his spirit of collaboration with his colleagues.

Let there be no misunderstanding. When I say that the teacher must be moderate, discreet and unassuming, I do not mean that he should concede every demand of the students. When I say that he is not the one who has the knowledge and whose duty is to impart it to his students, I do not mean that he is devoid of knowledge, but that his aim is to teach the students how to liberate the knowledge that is within them. If he should not speak too much, it is because he is a source of information and not of knowledge and he must supply only the information that is needed.

If he should not enforce his decisions, it is not because he is unable to reach a decision or to impose it, but because his purpose is to train the students to come to their own decisions. The teacher is there to support the children’s growth towards responsibility and self-acquired knowledge. He must therefore be steady, strong and reliable. Thus only can he inspire confidence and conform to the need of the child for security and protection.

In short, I can say that the good teacher is certainly a person of character and authority, but these should be felt rather than asserted. His action and guidance are constant, but they are indirect and veiled.

The third aspect of the teacher’s work is to help the children to find the inner guidance. This part is the most delicate of all: to be able to induce a psychic opening in the children he should himself always keep in touch with his soul. As the Mother said:

“Teachers who do not possess a perfect calm, an unfailing endurance, an unshakable quietness, who are full of self-conceit will reach nowhere.
One must be a saint and a hero to become a good teacher.
One must be a great Yogi to become a good teacher.
One must have the perfect attitude in order to be able to exact from one’s pupils a perfect attitude.
You cannot ask of a person what you do not do yourself. It is a rule.” 1

This statement should not give rise to hesitation and misgiving, it should rather encourage us. To teach is certainly a very efficient form of sadhana and The Mother has also said:

“I have never asked any of those—who were educated here—to give lessons unless I saw that it would be for him the best means of disciplining himself, of learning in the best way what he has to teach and to attain an inner perfection which he would never have if he were not a teacher and had not this occasion for disciplining himself, which is exceptionally hard.” 2

We can say that the demand made upon a teacher is great, but his reward is to watch and assist the emergence of living souls. Now there is a point about the teacher’s action at which I have hitherto only hinted. It is the collaboration among teachers. The organisation and working of a new class require a constant exchange of thoughts and experiences, co-ordination and harmonisation of decisions among the teachers of the same class. They must know each other well, trust one another and act as a team. A new class is thus a very good field for the practice of true collaboration. It has been found also that the presence at the same time of more than one teacher is beneficial both to teachers and students: a better mutual understanding among teachers, a more intimate knowledge of the students, more dignity, self-mastery and punctuality from the teachers, a feeling of closeness and unity, and better relations between teachers and students.

The necessity of a co-ordinated collective action of the teachers makes it indispensable that one of the class teachers should be incharge of the organisation of the class and responsible for its unity. Let us call him the First Teacher.

Some teachers might be afraid lest this organisation should restrict their own independence. Freedom for the child is all right, they will say, but what about the freedom of the teacher? Will there not be a great rigidity and fixity in the system?

First, when text books, collective class-teaching and homework are replaced with work-sheets prepared by the teacher and with individual work by the students under his guidance and control, the teacher’s freedom of action is not impaired in any way, it means only that one set of instruments have replaced another set. And the new one gives to the teacher the possibility of a greater adaptation to the individual nature of the children and hence a greater flexibility.

But it is true that the new class is a collective unit from the point of view of both students and teachers. The action and attitude of every teacher have often immediate and important repercussions on the atmosphere of the class, and therefore on its work and progress. In the same way every child’s behaviour has an effect on the whole class. This is also true in the traditional education, but it is perhaps felt here with a greater acuity, owing to the quietness of the class and the harmonious yet independent activity of the students. One can say that the atmosphere is more sensitive. This is probably due to the fact that the children are less subjected to outer commands and impacts, more often placed face to face with themselves and asked to look silently within for guidance.

What would one say of a musician who refuses to play his agreed part in an orchestra but insists on complete independence and freedom of action? Or of a mason who rejects the architect’s plan and follows his own inspiration regardless of what the others are doing? Or of a volley-ball player who declines to concert and synchronize his movements with his fellow-players?

The same is true of all collective work. The independence of each is qualified by the interdependence of all. Each one has to accept a certain degree of restriction and even subordination. The closer the collaboration, the better the efficiency.

Now, a new class is eminently a collective undertaking. Yet much freedom is left to the teacher, not only in the preparation of the work-sheets, but in the guidance of the students and in contact with them. What is important is that the principles and distinctive features of the method should be carefully observed—the rules of the game—as any deviation from them would create confusion and render the scheme worthless.

The principles have been laid down by Sri Aurobindo and the features of the method are in complete conformity with these principles. Moreover, both principles and features are supported by the recent findings of child psychology and the trend of modern research in education. Therefore, there can be no valid objection to a sadhak’s entering into such collaboration.

However, as the method is new and not yet fully tested, it must be expected that some teachers of our Centre of Education may be reticent and feel the need of further experiment before committing themselves. For this reason there can be no question of imposing the new method on anybody. Those who will join the new classes as teachers will be entirely volunteers.

Not only must they accept freely the method, but it is my opinion that they should feel a certitude about its correctness, its value—they should see it as a step in the right direction. Moreover, if they understand all its implications, they will discover that it is truly a new attitude towards the child and education. They must feel an urge to participate in what is and will be a pioneering work.


1 The Bulletin of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, August 1961.
2 Ibid


Pavitra (P.B. Saint Hilaire) studied at the ‘Ecole polytechnique’ in France. His spiritual search took him to Japan, Mongolia and finally to the Ashram at Pondicherry where he was given the name ‘Pavitra’. He was the Director of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education.

[P.B. Saint Hilaire]

P.B. Saint Hilaire