Friday, 18 March 2011

Conquered teacher

When he was still very young, but already a genius, the most famous Russian poet Alexander Pushkin received a portrait from an older poet friend with the inscruption: "To the pupil-conquerer from the conquered teacher". This episode is always quoted in relation to Pushkin, but it is more interesting to contemplate from the teacher's point of view. You must be quite generous to admit that your pupil is more talented and has surpassed you. It is not always easy to be that generous. Mostly we prefer to think that as teachers we will always be cleverer, more knowledgeable, more experienced and thus more deserving of everything that the academic life has to offer: jobs, publications, awards, grants, good reviews and keynote invitations. Yet deep inside we know that there will be a moment when a student catches up and takes over. And we should be proud of it, because this is how scholarship works. Or more broadly, how life works.

This sentimental reflection is inspired by a student winning a major award for her work.

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