“There may be other methods for finding oneself, for waking up to oneself out of the anaesthesia in which we are commonly enshrouded…”, wrote Nietzsche in 1873: “but I know of none better than that of reflecting upon one’s educators and cultivators.”
Nietzsche goes on in his essay to describe how Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher who had died thirteen years prior, was his “one teacher and master-discipliner” who had taught him how to “reshape the whole human being into a living, moving solar and planetary system and to identify the law governing its higher mechanics.”
Compare that description to most of the teachers we encounter in schools and universities, who don’t inspire so much as dull our senses. It’s not that any teacher means badly—it just points to the fundamental distinction between a teacher and an educator, and the fact that the latter are so rare and so valuable.
Hardly anyone draws this distinction between teachers and educators. The terms are most often used interchangeably, with some teachers trying on the title of “educator” on their Twitter profile. But the difference goes to the heart of the influence a teacher has on students’ lives, and it’s one that both students and teachers must pay attention to.
Educators versus teachers
“Let my guide remember the object of his task, and let him not impress on his pupil so much the date of the destruction of Carthage as the characters of Hannibal and Scipio, nor so much where Marcellus died as why his death there showed him unworthy of his duty. Let him be taught not so much the histories as how to judge them.”
— Michel de Montaigne, On the Education of Children
Teachers teach facts, educators use facts to inspire.
Teachers teach the dates of a war, educators use the war to reflect on human morality.
Teachers teach the names and birth dates of characters in history, educators tell of the character of those characters.
Teachers teach facts; educators teach character.
Teachers teach how to find an answer, educators show why the answer matters.
Teachers teach that 1+1=2, educators show the significance of maths in our lives.
Teachers teach material for the upcoming test; educators tell us why we have tests in the first place.
Teachers teach how to write a sentence; educators know that there are no rules for good writing.
Teachers teach Hamlet; educators show us how we are all like Hamlet.
Teachers teach others’ material, but educators know that their own lives are the only true material.
Teachers teach what they’re told to teach; educators use that only as their starting point.
Teachers teach what others believe, but educators know that “to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,—that is genius.”
Teachers teach classes; educators teach students.
Teachers think books are their material; educators know that the whole world is a “vale of soul-making.”
Teachers have a job. Educators have a calling.
Teachers teach the syllabus; educators see in students what we most need to see in ourselves, and know just how to liberate us from behind that frosted window that is youth.
Teachers teach for school. Educators, for life.
Most of us can teach. Only someone special can educate.
Most of us have teachers. Let us students all look for—hope for—an educator. And let all teachers aspire to—strive to—educate.