What makes a good teacher? – Plato on learning & teaching

I’m reading The Great Tradition this year, and posting about it as I go.

I’ve had a few people ask about a schedule, but I’m not committing to anything but slow progress. I’m taking a page from Brandy on slow reading and sitting down most days to read two or three pages at a time.

Today’s commonplace quote is from page 4. I told you I am reading it slowly!

This selection is from Plato, the first philosopher on education to be included at length. Solomon’s Proverbs are earlier and just as – indeed, more so – applicable to education, but it’s no surprise a book on classical education begins with Plato. Divine writ is its own category. Here we have uninspired texts from observant men who want the best for their culture and society.

Teachers are learners, too.

“Every one of us should seek out the best teacher whom he can find, first for ourselves, who are greatly in need of one, and then for the youth, regardless of expense or anything.” (Plato, qtd in The Great Tradition p. 4)

What I love most about this quote is how it acknowledges that we as teachers – even Plato as a master teacher – had not “arrived” and was not all-sufficient.


CH058: A Teacher’s Goals


We don’t have to teach out of our own sufficiency and our own mastering of the subject.

We don’t have to be a master before we begin to teach.

But I cannot advise that we remain as we are. (Plato, qtd in The Great Tradition p. 4)

However, we also can’t teach from complacency.

Plato is speaking to teachers but also to his general audience. None of us should remain as we are, but instead seek out teachers. We should seek out teachers for ourselves before we seek them for our children.

Mothers must be both teachers and learners.

As mothers home with our children all day every day, we are their primary influence, especially in the younger years. We can’t just wing it and expect great results or satisfaction.

If we can be always learning, always growing, always stretching, we will be happier and we will be modeling for our children the life we’re asking them to embrace.

What are some of the ways you have sought out teachers for yourself?

Learning what classical education really means from primary sources.

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