“That’s a good question! Let me get back to you later.”
This was a frequently uttered phrase by my high school chemistry teacher when students asked him to explain further what he was teaching. We used to laugh at him every time this phrase came out of his mouth, because we thought it was a sign that he did not know the answers to our questions and it was his way of buying time to go scrambling for them… we did not think he was a very good teacher.
But, now that I look back, I now believe he was one of the best teachers I had in all the education I received.
I seem to remember that most of my teachers did not allow questions (maybe they thought they were doing such a good job teaching that it was impossible for students not to understand?), and the few who did allow, they would say “there is no such thing as a stupid question” but would (or maybe could?) only repeat the same explanation the questioner found to be insufficient for a full understanding. But this chemistry teacher not only allowed questions (maybe many of which were stupid questions), he acknowledged them as being good questions!
And when he acknowledged our questions to be good, maybe it was not that he did not know WHAT the answers to them were, but only that he did not know HOW to answer them so we could come to a full understanding.
Maybe he was a good teacher who understood correctly that delivery mattered just as much as the contents themselves. And maybe that is precisely why he would politely ask to buy time to think it over, so he would not get it wrong.
Maybe he was a very good teacher who taught me not only the WHAT in the form of chemistry, but also the HOW through his earnest manner in which he engaged with his students.
So many years have passed since I sat through his classes. Maybe I can no longer recite a single chemical reaction correctly, but I can still recall quite clearly the way he uttered his famous phrase, and how he always came back later with clear answers to our questions custom-fit to each of our level of understanding.
Maybe the fact that he is remembered not so much for the WHAT but for the HOW is a true sign that he was indeed very good at teaching.
I received a message from my alma mater this morning, in response to the travel restrictions their international students and other members of the community of this educational institution may be affected by. It mentioned that they have very few clear answers at this point, but that they would keep looking for them and they will surely be back with those that best address each of the fears and worries the affected are feeling.
I was impressed not just by WHAT they are doing, but also by HOW they are doing it. I have always thought they were a good educational institution for all the WHAT they instilled in me while I was studying in it, but I now think they are showing a true sign of being a very good educational institution in the HOW they go about gathering the information most needed to be disseminated.
It makes me very proud to be a part of this educational institution as an alumnus… so I am going to ask them a question, and I hope it is a good one: I am not yet sure WHAT I can do to help, but if there is anything, would you let me know HOW?