Do We Need Masters?


There is a new trend in French education concerning Masters and the idea is that they are no longer needed. In our modern society, this concept is considered old-fashioned and outdated.

As a result teachers are no longer expected to teach their students but to manage the class. Similarly they should not grade papers or oral presentations themselves but ask the students for their assistance. As for the curriculum, the teacher is supposed to choose topics that are already part of the children’s culture and not impose his/her own choices on the students.

This has been bothering me since I first heard about it a few years ago.

To my mind, the master/student relationship is one that has always existed and I can’t see why it should suddenly stop to be relevant.

On the contrary, in traditional cultures, it is something that is valued and encouraged. It has always struck me that in Judaism the geatest teachers always give thanks to their masters before they express their own opinions and beliefs. It is interesting also to note that a rabbi is not a priest or a leader but a teacher.

Likewise one of the first things that a student of martial art learns in order to address their instructor is the word sensei (master).

I feel that if I am only entitled to teach what the students already know, I am part of a plan which organizes collective amnesia since this would do away with the culture each generation hands down to the next. Part of a society’s identity is its shared heritage of which history and culture are fundamental elements.

On a pragmatic level, I know that I have been influenced and encouraged, both directly and indirectly, by a few people I consider my masters, both when I learned English and today when I read Jewish books for inspiration and guidance.

Were you influenced by great teachers? Do you still consider some people as your teachers? Do you feel that some masters impress your children more than others?

23 thoughts on “Do We Need Masters?

  1. “teachers are no longer expected to teach their students but to manage the class” – not really sure I understand this. Not really sure *you* understand this.

    I have learned more from some people than from others. I can’t say my classroom teachers were most influential for me. But one has to give a teacher a certain amount of authority in the classroom or else the teacher is basically handicapped in teaching.

    • I hesitated between the verbs “manage” and “run”. I meant that what we expect from us nowadays is more like what a camp counsellor does with the kids he is responsible for.
      Is this any clearer?

      • The “camp counselor” idea sounds ridiculous. No, I don’t think it is a good idea to take away almost all of the teacher’s authority. I think teachers should have authority, but they should also learn to listen to students. It’s not that they are in authority that is the problem; it’s that some do not listen (as was the case with too many of my teachers) and don’t know how to teach “each according to their way.”

  2. It sounds like a dangerous practice to me. It would have turned me off as a student. I want to learn something I do not know, and I want the teacher to be a master on the topic.

  3. In the US where I live right now this is also an emerging trend, though a very small one; it’s primarily the province of those who educate their children at home via “unschooling.” As someone who had both great and terrible experiences in the formal educational system and ended up in the academy, I think there is some merit to this approach, but also pitfalls, which you point out so well. I’m also unconvinced it is right for every child, and effective for a classroom setting. On the whole, I think a master-disciple relationship (which is to say a relationship of unequals, something that is problematic for some) is deeply valuable when there is mutual respect.

    • a relationship of unequals, something that is problematic for some
      Something I fail to understand is why people make a trauma out of everything that happens to children and teenagers. I agree that some educational experiences can be traumatic but realizing that some people know more than you do doesn’t belong to this category.

      • I think the problem is when someone has authority over you because of their office, but doesn’t actually know more than you, and in fact may know considerably less. But I agree, the word “trauma” is used far too easily.

  4. Interestingly, here in Israel (or at least in the religious schools), students are taught to stand up when the teacher or principal enters the classroom. Also, many students address their teachers as hamoreh/hamorah (literally, “the teacher” – i.e. in third person) as a sign of respect. And male Judaic studies teachers are almost always referred to by the honorific “Rav” – even if they don’t actually have semichah (rabbinic ordination).

      • When I was in high school, my Israeli Hebrew teacher told us to call her by her first name. She wasn’t into being formal.

        But that didn’t mean she couldn’t discipline (other teachers did have that problem).

  5. I believe that a teacher needs to emulate as a master, and not as a “camp counselor” type.

    That is where respect is built, between teacher and student.

    I don’t recall a specific teacher who I feel influenced me. Individuals might perk my ears up, such as writers, orators, or people in the Jewish community, and they might give me motivation to research and learn.

  6. Leora: When I did Jewish studies at a local college 5 years ago, we were the only students who called their teachers by their first names. However it didn’t prevent us from respecting them.

    • In my kids’ schools, the students refer to most of the teachers by their first names, but as I noted above, they don’t address them that way directly.

  7. Leora: To teach the students “each according to their way”, I believe we need fewer students in the classes to begin with. I am not sure how many students there are in American classes but in some in my school there are 35.
    In addition we need to learn how to teach “each according to their way.”

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  9. Call me old-fashioned, but I think this is plain wrong. I can remember the great teachers I had at school who influenced me greatly – strangely (or not, depending on how well you know me!) they were all language teachers. They instilled in me a love of literature, language, history, art and science precisely because they were ‘Masters’. They controlled the classroom AND knew their subject and wider areas very well indeed.

    I’m just off to sit in a corner, sigh, shake my head and wonder what the world is coming to….

  10. The teachers who had the greatest influence on me (i.e. taught me the most) were not necessarily the teachers I liked the best personally. The ones I remain fondest of were those who piled on the work, but valued and trusted my work when I threw myself into it. My teachers in graduate school who inspired me the most had the greatest grasp of their subject matter, and tailored the assignments to what the literature seemed to require (papers, journals, presentations).

    Class sizes in America can be in the low 30s too, making it very difficult to teach each child in a special way. Conditions in Israel are not much better, with resources not always sufficient to quality teaching. I’m not even tempted to try to teach here (especially because the English speakers’ English is even more varied regarding reading and writing than in the US). I have the utmost appreciation for teachers who return to the classroom year after year with less respect and support all the time. I think Western society (including Israel) needs to renew its commitment to quality education, including its appreciation of teachers.

  11. I think Western society (including Israel) needs to renew its commitment to quality education, including its appreciation of teachers.
    I couldn’t agree more. I know a lot of Western countries are in the red but education should remain a top priority.

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