“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.” Teaching is defined as imparting the knowledge of a certain field of study. But teaching is not simply giving a student a book of facts; it is giving a student the knowledge to come to a conclusion by himself. One must remember that there is a large difference between memorizing and learning. If you only “teach” a student to memorize, then he will never truly understand the concept behind the problem. I have learned from my tutoring experiences that forcing students to memorize a book of facts is not teaching; instead, teaching is the act of allowing the students to reach the answer themselves. In other words, the destination is not necessarily the most important, but rather the road there. Once a student knows the path, then he can reach the destination again and again. But if a student is only given the destination, then it is very difficult to get there again without the guidance from another.
This belief may sound like an obvious one, but how many teachers truly apply it to their teaching? For example, my mom grew up in Hong Kong, where the education system is very different than the one we have here in the United States. In Hong Kong, students are taught to memorize and not necessarily to understand. Imagine having to memorize packets and packets of information every day without understanding the material.
When I tutor Maria, a fifth-grader, I try to avoid giving her specific formulas to memorize and instead try to involve her and lead her on in a way that will allow her to draw her own conclusions. When she is lost, I give her hints. When she is unsure about her answer, I ask her to give me her reasoning. At times, it becomes frustrating when she can’t understand a concept that seems so clear to me, but never do I give her the answer without explaining the reasoning behind it first. Equipped with this reasoning, she sees more and more problems to which it can be applied. Eventually, she learns to apply her knowledge to problem after problem without having to ask me or refer to past examples. It is then that we both know that she has mastered the concept. I delight in the light of understanding in her eyes and can see her increased confidence in herself. She flashes me one of her triumphant smiles and I smile back. Long ago, Confucius once said: “Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”