Did you know that the novelist Natsume Soseki spent time teaching? The protagonist of Botchan is a math teacher but Soseki taught English. His students were blown away by his incredible English pronunciation in an era when people rarely studied abroad. He was a talented, enthusiastic teacher who wasn’t bound by commonly accepted teaching practices. He was adored by his students despite his strictness. However, he decided that teaching wasn’t really for him. He gave up his position at Todai University and became an author. And I agree: sitting at home writing novels you love beats commuting to work and teaching.
Soseki famously went on to become a successful writer and form the foundation of modern Japanese literature. In his later years his body broke down and he was put on bedrest. His stomach hurt (and you could tell this was the type of guy to give himself stomachaches all the time anyway). One day, one of his mentees (the novelist Miekichi Suzuki) came by to check on him. Soseki was seated in his living room teaching English to twelve or thirteen neighborhood kids dressed in dirty kimonos. Miekichi could tell that Soseki’s stomach hurt like it always did and he looked worn out, but he taught with kindness and patience despite the pain. When the kids left, Miekichi asked, “Where are those kids from?” Soseki replied, “I have no idea. They just showed up and asked me to teach them English. I told them I’m a busy man but I’d grace them with a lesson just this once. Then I asked who had the nerve to send them to my home asked for a lesson in the first place. They said that they figured I must know English because I’m such an important person.”
What a charming image that is: Soseki sitting there in his living room fighting through his abdominal pain and telling these dirty kids that he’s too busy but he’ll just teach them this once as he takes them through an introductory English lesson. I was introduced to this part of his life in a book called Natsume Soseki, The English Teacher. He was adamant that teaching wasn’t for him, but he must not have totally hated it.
Not to boast, but I’ve always been terrible at teaching. I don’t have too much difficulty understanding concepts myself, but I can’t break things down to explain to someone else. My wife blames it on self-centeredness, but I think it’s just one of my weaknesses. I lose patience quickly and give up on whatever teaching tactic I’m employing, and I wonder why they won’t understand. He who questions his student’s abilities can never be a good teacher.
A while ago a certain slugger was asked for his secret to hitting and he replied, completely seriously, “It’s easy. Just hit it.” And I get how he must have felt to give such an unhelpful tip. It makes sense in a way. He had retired and was coaching, but you know, some people just aren’t meant to teach.