In memory of a great teacher
Teachers have students, good teachers have learners, and teaching gods have disciples. That was the summary of my teaching philosophy I recently presented at the Harvard Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning.
I was one of the few lucky ones who had a teaching god as my form master. Almost 45 years after being taught by the late Father Harold Naylor, S.J., I find what I recently learned at Harvard was already practised by Fr. Naylor almost half a century ago. He was not just a high school teacher, he was a reflective practitioner. He was a pioneer on modern teaching concepts, he encouraged intrinsic motivation, he created an inclusive teaching environment and built student rapport, he engaged students in active learning and connected knowledge with real life, he used formative feedback, the list goes on.
For example, when teaching biblical studies, we were taken to the Buddhist Temples and Muslim Mosque. When teaching biology, on the first day of class, we were told to draw on a piece of blank paper a naked man and a naked woman. I remembered one of our more artistic students drew an almost naked man with a fig leaf covering the genital part. Fr. Naylor just tore up the sheet and asked him to draw again, a NAKED man. He made almost every one of us a member of the Conservancy Association. He made us to debate and disagreed with our peers.
If there is a Church of Teaching, the best teachers can almost be canonized as saints and those who preach their teachings are disciples. The Catholic church canonized some great teachers. As a former student of Wah Yan Kowloon, one of the two Jesuit schools in Hong Kong, I was told the order’s founder St. Ignatius of Loyola was a really good teacher. The rival de La Salle schools claimed their founder Saint Jean Baptiste de la Salle was the patron saint of all teachers. Saint Thomas Aquinas was touted as the patron of ALL universities and students.
I last saw the father a few years ago when I visited Hong Kong. Even though he was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, he insisted on saying mass in Cantonese at Wah Yan’s St. Ignatius Chapel. That day, I had the last communion delivered by the late father.
Fr. Naylor will be missed, but his teaching spirit is eternal.