I am an epicurean. I love great food. I have found great food in critically acclaimed restaurants, ethnic enclaves like China Town in Houston, food stalls on the streets of South Korea, food trucks, and dives in cities scattered across the globe. You just never know where you might find a great chef or cook. This got me thinking about what one associates with a great meal. When we think of great dining or food experiences, I would venture to say that we don’t associate them with menus or recipes. Rather, they are almost invariably associated with a person. I can remember growing up eating my Czech grandmother’s sugar cookies, kolaches, and fresh-baked bread. In particular, I especially remember those sugar cookies. Somehow, after my grandmother’s passing, we came into possession of the prized recipe for those amazing cookies. Despite best efforts to follow the recipe, we just could never seem to reproduce that ethereal and sublime experience of warm sugary goodness that was indelibly branded into our gustatorial memory. I think the reason, in significant part, is due to the fact that despite our best attempts to distill cooking down to an exact science represented by recipes, at the highest levels of gastronomic experience, cooking is much more art than it is science. Art is always associated with people not the sterility of science. I think most of us, when we have recollections of our fondest eating experiences can associate them with the face of a mom, an aunt, a grandmother, a nameless cook at a dive, or a great chef at an upscale restaurant. When we celebrate great food in our society, we don’t celebrate great menus or recipes. We celebrate great chefs.
In much the same way, the same can be said of great learning experiences. When we think back on the incredibly small number of classroom experiences in our lives that we recall fondly for being memorable learning experiences, we don’t associate them with a course syllabus or what textbook was used. Rather, we associate great learning experiences with great teachers. What exactly do we remember about a learning experience with a great teacher that made it so great? We remember great teachers for their presence, their ability to inspire us, and to cultivate a sustainable desire to want to learn whatever material they were teaching us. Only people can inspire us that way. Technology, curriculums, or textbooks can never create an engagingly inspirational learning experience, at least not in a manner that comes close to approaching how a great teacher can.