By Instructor Neal Kellar
On the track “Concerto In X Minor” from Brand Nubian’s 1989 debut, Derek X declares that “The civilized man’s main goal is to teach.” I always liked that lyric. I take it to mean that Derek X sees the act of teaching is a declaration of faith in the notion of civilization. I agree. Civilization works when it is a desirable alternative to the chaos of a wandering existence. Civilization and society should represent better way to organize our collective survival and common goals than the aimless reliance on fortune alone. In the struggle between chance and causality, we seek education in order to be the source of our own causality, relying on the teachings of those who preceded us to light the way. Passing on our acquired skills and knowledge to those who come after us serves to lay the foundational blocks upon which the edifice of civilization is constructed. As the bricks build the library to house our books, those books build a home for our collective consciousness. Think about it. Historically speaking, when did we first start teaching things? I don’t know for certain, but I’ll bet it was shortly before the idea of civilized society took root (that was an agriculture pun, in case you missed it!). If civilization is worth preserving, then teaching is the act that cultivates it.
While I do not teach anything as lofty as philosophy or metaphysics, I am nevertheless proud of my involvement in teaching. I teach audio engineering, recording technology, and principles of sound at the Omega Studios’ School. I am especially fortunate to be teaching these subjects, because these are the things that most interest me in life. I think I could probably teach a pretty good math class, or history or writing or something. But I teach audio technology, and having me teach this subject is like having a fish teach classes on how to swim – it’s a natural! Making sounds, recording music, helping other musicians record or reproduce their music, these are the things that have most captured my interests in life. Learning to use the technology in order to further these goals has been an ongoing obsession, and I’ve been doing that for well on thirty years at this point. Even when my ‘day job’ was doing other things completely unrelated to music production, my mind was on microphones and mixers.
Make no mistake, it takes time and practice. Hours were spent twiddling knobs and digging into manuals in order to learn this stuff! And even though there are few things I’d rather spend an afternoon (evening->night time->sunrise->morning) doing, there are great moments of frustration along the way. Something doesn’t work, or makes no sense, or the manual is unclear or incomplete, and the impulse is there to throw it against the wall and walk away. Most stressful of all, this moment typically occurs right before I run out of time, and life’s other obligations must take over. I know that crushing moment all too well. I also know the flipside to this feeling of distress: the wonderful feeling of enlightenment that comes when I figure out the problem and achieve understanding. That’s a great feeling, and it makes the suffering worthwhile. It’s actually a physical sensation, you know. People who study how the brain works theorize that you feel elated because the body’s chemistry releases endorphins as a reward for mental achievements. That’s probably what we feel when we finally ‘get it.’ That’s why we giggle or laugh when we hit that moment of realization. The body has just released a chemical treat for a cerebral accomplishment (and don’t worry, it’s safe and legal!)
So I know what my students are going through when they struggle to understand something, but I also see it when they break through. I see my job as teacher to shorten the period of distress and suffering in the learning process, and deliver people to the moment of understanding. I can always recognize it, too, because I’ve experienced it so often myself. And I enjoy it. I find it rewarding, and hopefully we all do. If a little laughter ensues, so much the better! I have my own theory that a little humor helps the process of learning. It’s like a little appetizer that compels the brain to hunger for more rewards.
As a result of all this, I was really pleased to see the post on Facebook that I have included in this blog. A student of mine, who was experiencing the ‘distress’ phase of the learning process, reports that she got a renewed sense of purpose after one of my classes. She mentions the humor, she describes it as the applesauce that helped her finish the peas. But crucially, she was able to better retain the nutritional benefit of those peas (meaning the information from the class) as a result.
I was really thrilled to see Ginger’s post, which is why I wanted to share it. A transcendent moment like this is what keeps me excited about teaching, and makes it all worthwhile. For the other teachers who might be reading this, you know what this moment is like, and it’s something that defies crude quantification in things like test scores. For the students who might be reading this, it demonstrates that there is a reward at the end, and the distress you may feel along the way should not deter you. Heck, it’s part of the process! The stress works in your favor when it compels you towards the reward, so embrace it! Who knows, you might decide one day that applesauce by itself just isn’t complete without some peas in it!
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