The Student and the Teacher

The student pushed open the glass door and stepped into the school, leaving the warm sunshine from the bright outdoors. A cool draft of spring air stirred papers laying on a low table off to the side.

The student had been looking forward to this day all week. “I get to see my teacher today,” thought the student. “He knows everything. I will learn something great today.”

The student climbed the stairs, running up the last few steps. There, in the back corner of the room, the teacher was sweeping the floor.

“Good morning!” the student called cheerily, dropping a heavy bag near a shelf. The teacher smiled warmly. “Good morning to you.” The student’s grin widened as the teacher leaned the broom against the wall and came over to shake hands. His hand was big and warm.

“Are you ready for a lesson?” asked the teacher, seating himself down comfortably yet properly.
“Yes!” the student said enthusiastically. “I’m ready! Please teach me!” The student hadn’t done so well on the previous test; feelings of shame still lingered and became motivation for improvement.

The teacher looked the student in the eyes. The student looked back, but the prolonged silence caused the eager smile to fade slightly.
The teacher suddenly spoke. “What do you want to do today?”
The student started. “What…what do you mean?”
“What do you want to do?” the teacher repeated.
The student stared hard at the teacher, who’s face remained impassive and unchanging. Except for a slight upturn of the lips which could have been a smile. Then he raised his eye brows in imitation of the student’s puzzled reaction.

“I don’t understand,” the student said, laughing a little in bewilderment. “You’re the teacher. You tell me what to do.”

Was the teacher joking? Was this a test? The teacher had a cynical, mischievous streak, and an unfathomable sense of humor. His expressions and actions continually baffled his pupil, adding to his mysterious aura.

“No, you tell me,” the teacher said, his lips breaking slightly, obviously enjoying the student’s discomfort. Or maybe not.
“But,” the student said, “You’re my teacher. You tell me what I should do to improve. What do I do next?”
“I’m not your teacher,” the teacher said.
“What?!” the student exclaimed, all traces of levity vanishing. “What do you mean?”
The teacher remained silent, with only that unchanging, infuriating smile.
“Wait a minute, what do you mean you’re not my teacher?”
“Never mind,” sighed the teacher. “Don’t worry. Just do this practice.” The teacher indicated the usual practice material that the student brought every week.

The student looked down at it, disappointment obvious. It was just the usual thing. No new advice? No answers? Just the same exercise?
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. Just do it,” the teacher encouraged.
“Alright,” the student said, and got busy. After a few minutes of silent work with the teacher observing quietly, the student looked up. “I’m doing it, but it’s bothering me that you said you’re not my teacher. What are you then?”

The teacher just smiled.

“Why won’t you tell me what I need to do?”
“What do you want to do?” the teacher asked. “It’s your lesson.”
“But sometimes what I want to do and what I need to do are different, right?” the student said. “That’s why I want you to tell me…”

Then the student fell silent. Considering. “I guess I have a brain and I can think for myself,” the student contemplated. Then, the student realized that the teacher had put stress on the word “want.”
“What do I WANT to do?” the student repeated out loud. “I want to get better but…I don’t want to do this exercise right now,” the student suddenly decided. “I want to get better at this, but I’m tired of it and I want to practice this other thing,” indicating with one hand.

The teacher’s face remained the same, but his eyes seemed to twinkle. “Then let’s do that!” he said, pushing himself to his feet.

The student watched, his eyes glued to the teacher’s back as he turned and walked to the other side of the room.

“He wouldn’t hold my hand,” the student realized as the teacher prepared the next lesson. “He wouldn’t tell me the answer because the answer must come from inside me. If he orders me to do something, I might do it but internally reject it. Then I can’t absorb and internalize what he’s trying to teach me. The motivation comes from inside me. He just wanted me to find it and decide my path for myself. The teacher can’t make me learn it, but can only help me discover it. He is a very wise teacher,” the student thought gratefully. “I did learn something great today already.”

And then the student wondered if maybe the teacher had just woken up late and forgotten to prepare something ahead of time.…