Humility and Teaching: On Leading While Walking Backward

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The Art of Teaching: A Conference for Teaching Men


November 9-11 • The Heights School, Potomac, MD

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A teacher is one who leads while walking backward. Even more, he is one who leads with the humble hope that he will one day be surpassed by those who are following him; for while a teacher may have traveled down the proverbial path a time or two before, he must nevertheless rediscover it with each new student.

In this week’s episode we sit down with Mr. Joe Bissex to discuss the importance of humility in the classroom.  In the episode, we consider the following questions:

  1. What is humility? What is it not?
  2. What are some markers of humility?
  3. What is the role of a teacher in the classroom?
  4. What does it mean for a teacher to point the way?
  5. As a teacher, how do you admit failure? Why is it important to do so?
  6. What is the connection between generosity and humility in the classroom?

As you’ll hear, if a teacher remains humble and sincerely elicits his students’ contributions, it does not infrequently happen that what he had missed on his first ten treks, he may—with the fresh insight of a new student—discover on the eleventh. And in this discovery, both teacher and student will have the joy of knowing that both are disciples of the one Teacher, who is the Truth itself, and whose way makes all things new.

Show Highlights

  • What is the role of the teacher in the classroom?
  • How does a teacher lead?
  • Why a teacher should hope his student will one day surpass him
  • Humility as rejoicing in the ways one’s students will–or already have–surpassed you
  • Why it is important for a teacher to humbly recognize his failures
  • How sincere questions can lead to the greatest of discoveries
  • The need to petition for student’s help
  • Why a teacher should be open to the changing his mind
  • Teaching and the unexpected
  • Teaching is modeling a way of thinking, not the mere conveyance of facts
  • Why a teacher does not need to have all the answers ahead of time
  • Humility in testing: how to assess students in a way that goes beyond fact checking alone
  • Joy as the fruit of humility
  • The importance of having the generosity to pray for one’s students, and the humility to ask one’s student’s for prayers.

Also on The Forum

Guidance for Aspiring Teachers with Alvaro de Vicente

Seneca on the Teacher’s Job by Tom Cox

The Teacher as Liberal Artist with Dr. Matthew Mehan and Mr. Tom Longano

Cultivating Friendship in the Classroom by Austin Hatch

Aristotle on the Student’s Job by Tom Cox

Joe Bissex

About the guest:

Joe Bissex


Joseph lives in Rockville with his dear family, a mountain of books, two mountains of board games, one pesky spider cricket (where are the Daleks when you need them?), and a collection of 150 shot glasses. He can rave endlessly about the awesomeness of The Odyssey and The Tempest, so say “Penelope” or “Prospero” and see what happens. An avid fan of all things theatrical, Joseph directs the Omnibus Players of The Heights School, the Tower Fools, and is the faculty sponsor for the Film Club. Omnia Omnibus!