The one rule of teaching

by | Thursday, May 05, 2011

Pauline Kael is regarded to be one of the best film reviewers to have ever lived. Sam Sacks has a piece on Kael in which he describes her style of film review, one based less on academic nitpicking and the presence (or absence) of directorial flourishes than on her personal aesthetic response to cinema. She is quoted as saying that there is only one rule in filmmaking:

There is only one rule: Astonish us! In all art we look and listen for what we have not experienced quite that way before. We want to see, to feel, to understand, to respond in a new way.

I read this quote and immediately realized that this rule applies to teaching as well. I have often described teaching as doing two things – making the strange familiar (an eclipse of the sun is caused by the moon falling into the earth’s shadow) or making the familiar strange (all matter is essentially empty space). What is common is the sense of surprise we experience in both cases.

It appears to me that very often we forget the value of astonishment and awe in teaching and learning. This is where the quote above really connects with my idea of teaching. Repeating the quote but by changing just one word—replacing “art” with “teaching.”

There is only one rule: Astonish us! In all teaching we look and listen for what we have not experienced quite that way before. We want to see, to feel, to understand, to respond in a new way.

How do we as educators meet this goal of “astonishing us all.”

A few randomly selected blog posts…

The revolution will be twittered

The recent (and ongoing) evens in Iran sadden me deeply... but also give me hope. The scenes and news emerging from there speak of courage and a need and demand for freedom. What is also amazing has been the use of technology particularly twitter to get news out of...

Yet another stop-motion movie

One Nikon D70, two bored kids, one snowy day... and 49 seconds of fun. Check out the latest stop-motion goofiness! You could also see the 12 Days of Christmas, desi style (the original can be found here) as rendered by Shreya...

Happy 2016, New Video

Since 2009, our family has been creating videos to welcome the new year. The videos are typically typographical in nature, sometimes including a visual illusion or some kind or the other. So as usual, we have a video for welcome 2016. Shot on our dining...

The Ethics of Dallas Clayton

I just stumbled upon Dallas Clayton's website. Lots of stuff there to enjoy... here's a short poem (as a sampler). ETHIC A father stands at the lip of the wharf with his daughter who is only three. They watch sea lions lounging about in the sun full with fish dazed...

AI writes book reviews

AI writes book reviews

Here is the title and abstract for a book review that was just published in the Irish Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning Preparing Ourselves for Artificial Intelligence: A Review of The Alignment Problem and God, Human, Animal, Machine Abstract: In this article,...

The KISS principle & weather

Keep It Simple Stupid is one of those adages you hear lots of times, but here is a website that has truly taken it to heart. See how an online weather related website can be taken to its logical, simplest extreme. Check out Umbrella Today?

Value in an age of free…

What happens when an economy "built on selling precious copies" suddenly confronts the world of the Internet - a world based on the "free flow of free copies?" Kevin Kelly confronts this issue in a recent post titled, Better than free. As he says, "how does one make...

Teacher as filmmaker: An update from down under

Back in 2007, I was second author on a paper titled Teacher as Filmmaker, in which we described an approach to teacher professional development that involved teachers creating short, evocative movies, which we called iVideos. You can read the paper and abstract...

All you can cheat, part II (a response)

Patrick Diemer commented on my previous posting, All you can cheat, the web & learning by saying: Do you have any words of wisdom or resources on how to create appropriate questions? This sounds great, but easier said than done in my humble opinion. I started...


  1. automation courses in chennai

    We wish to thank you once more for the beautiful ideas you offered Janet when preparing her own post-graduate research and, most importantly, regarding providing many of the ideas in one blog post. If we had known of your web-site a year ago, we’d have been kept from the needless measures we were participating in. Thanks to you.

  2. Michael

    We understand the need of the hour in teaching. Astonishing is a pretty good technique. However, the persistence and prolonged maintenance of this astonish us is going to be critical issue.

  3. Alice

    yes, “Atonish us!” means we always want to listen and read about new things, and even contemplate new feelings. These are also very important in education. The world changes everyday, education should be ussually refreshed to strive to a new height.

  4. Anna Hayes

    “I read this quote and immediately realized that this rule applies to teaching as well.”

    You’re a star in teaching and education, Punya!!! You always try to get the new thing, apply new method! I admire you alot!

    Good luck to you!

  5. Jeff

    I agree! What’s amazing is that, with the practically limitless availability of fabulous resources that are available to educators now, we still find lots of classrooms with a single voice (the teacher’s) and a room full of passive, disengaged students. Most of us entered the field of education with a deep passion for our work. What happened to the passion? Are most educators burned out? What do schools need to do — and I mean everything should be on the table — to not only energize and rejuvinate teachers but to provide structures for creating engaging instruction and curriculum?


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *