It is the destiny of all true masters to be surpassed by their students.
I came across this quote the other day and it got me thinking. Annoyingly now I come to write about it I cannot find where I saw it and I cannot find out where it comes from, anyway...
It got me thinking for two reasons, firstly it got me thinking about the fear of being surpassed which I suppose is the fear of being obsolete. Secondly it got me thinking about what it would mean if a teacher was never surpassed by their students.
I have worked with teachers in the past, people who I consider masters of their art. There is a worrying trait that I keep seeing. The idea that they should hoard their knowledge, never passing on all of what they know, always being superior to those around them. I don't know if this comes about from a feeling of superiority or from fear but in my albeit limited experience people who work in this way are not good teachers.
What would happen if students never surpassed their teachers? It would mean that knowledge and creativity had plateaued. In other words if the students were able to learn all a teacher knew it means stagnation, or a steady decline if they could not. It would mean that innovation and creativity are dead.
Given that, I suppose I don't understand where the hoarding of knowledge mentality comes from. I get that people may have put years into perfecting what they do and I get that they would want to protect that investment, but what good is that hard won knowledge if it is not passed on?
If you got into teaching to feel superior to others, then that’s on you. I would only refer you to an ancient Hindu proverb "There is no nobility in being superior to another person. True nobility comes from being superior to your former self" or point you at this web comic (one of my absolute favourites):
However on the fear front I think it’s worth exploring. Fear is something that affects us all to a greater or lesser degree whether we know it or not so I think it is worth processing it and showing why teachers should not fear being surpassed.
A teacher is so much more than their knowledge. Their experiences outside of their discipline shape them, their personality impacts them, the people around them influence them. If you were to take two people, give them the same pattern, the same materials and the same time and you would end up with two unique items as each one would include the style of its maker. All of this means that a teacher will always be unique, whether they share all their knowledge or not.
Next you have the time teachers have invested in their craft. Just because you have shown someone how to do something it does not mean they will be as good as the teacher straight away. It is said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something. A student learning something for the first time has a lot of practice ahead of them before they equal the master.
There has also been some recent interesting studies which indicate that teachers who do share everything they know are actually more innovative and creative than those who do not. The reason for this is that we all tend to work within what we know and it is easy to stay stuck in that box of our own making. When students take what they have been taught and run with it in ways the teacher would never think to, this breaks the teacher out of their box and shows them new avenues for creativity. There is power in not knowing you cannot do something!