The Art and Science of Teaching (a personal essay)

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Apr 13, 2004


The Bottom Line My answer to the question "Is Teaching an Art or a Science?"

Teaching, in my opinion, is both an art and a science. Science is defined as “methodological activity, discipline or study” as well as “knowledge, especially that gained through experience” (www.dictionary.com). Art has many different definitions which include “a system of principles and methods employed in performance of a set of activities” and “a trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods” (www.dictionary.com). However, I think the perpendicularity between art and science, specifically in regards to teaching, can be seen by the definition of art as “skill that is attained by study, practice or observation” (www.dictionary.com). The point where art and science meet is where teaching lies.

In studying classroom methodologies and theories, it is apparent that they come about through observation. By changing certain variables in the class and the way it is taught changes the outcome. This is a very scientific approach to teaching. However, the creativity that is involved in changing these variables is where the art shines through.

To get through to a student, a teacher must be creative. To impart knowledge onto their students, teachers must figure out how to catch their attention. Once a teacher masters how to catch their students’ attention, teaching becomes an art. However, before then, all of the teaching “experiments” are science.

I believe that too many consider “art” as something that has to deal with art itself and is missing the “mastery” part of art. As an actress, I am an artist. I have mastered the art of acting. In this phrase, art means discipline. When you think about it that way, doesn’t art mean the same thing as science? In order to get to the Art, one must first get through the Science. Together, “the Art and Science of Teaching” describes a very well-rounded teacher, probably one that has been teaching for quite a long time. It takes years to “perfect” how to teach a class. Even though a teacher may have their lesson plan down pat, they will probably have to adapt to the students in their class.

I think that many of us are stumbling on the phrase “art” because of its connection to creativity. Certainly, teaching is a creative profession. I am certain that every teacher has a different approach to how they teach their students, the same way each actor has a different approach to how they get into character. I believe that art means mastery. I don’t think that I will be well-versed in the art of teaching for quite a while.

Due to technology, a lot of focus is being put on the science of teaching, experimenting with how certain technologies effect students and are incorporated into the classroom. There are many more science classes now, beyond the biology and chemistry that once filled curriculum. Now there are various levels of computer science, science and technology courses and many others. Computers are being incorporated into every high school across the nation, and that has a huge impact on the Art and Science of Teaching.

Both art and science deal with hands on activities. Art deals with the more emotional side, in my opinion. Dealing with students on a personal level is more of an art than a science. Science makes me think of a cold, sterile atmosphere whereas art makes me think of a place that is emotional and open. There is no specific method to dealing with the emotions of students. In this case, art is improvisation. A teacher cannot experiment with a student’s feelings. In this case, a teacher has to follow their own heart and use their creativity to help the student. For example, I have recently heard the 911 calls from Columbine High School. One was from a female teacher as gunshots rang outside her classroom door. As a teacher, she had mastered the art of taking care of her students. She put the safety of her students first and acted through instinct. No science nor any other class could have taught her what to do in a situation such as the one she was in. She acted freely and emotionally, two characteristics of art.

As a Student Teacher, I will be able to work as an apprentice (hopefully) to a teacher that has a great deal of experience; one that is adept with both the Art and Science of teaching. Until then, I can only base my theories and opinions on what I read as well as what I observe in high school classes as well as my own classes towards my Masters’ Degree.

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