【Philosopher Café】A Discourse on Interactions between Teachers and Students from the Nature of Their Relationship

The Academic Center for Education on Life of the Ministry of Education, the School of Life and Values, and Dharma Drum College co-sponsored “Advanced Studies in Life Education﹘ The Philosopher’s Cafe” for the Academic Year 2011. The second session, in Central Taiwan, was held on October 21, 2011, in the afternoon, at Wen Hwa High School, in Taichung. The balmy afternoon autumn sun shone on nearly 30 participants who had gathered for the Philosopher’s Cafe.

At the beginning of the Seminar, Professor Gu Chungyu asked everyone to ponder the following questions: “Would you pay attention to the logic and contents of your daily conversations on a regular basis?” Because teachers are the most authoritative figure in a classroom, would this status place them into a group most lacking in challenge or microscopic examination? How would they react when challenged by students? Would they welcome students’ challenges freely? Or would they challenge their own deeply-imbedded beliefs learned from the past? Here challenge meant willing to “re-examine themselves” in the emotional context, in their status quo, and daily conversations. When people make a choice they are simultaneously examining the motivation behind their choice and the immediate environment of the problem.  Speaking after careful consideration will make people more aware of the turning points of their inner thoughts. With such clarity in the process of their thoughts, they can actually discover more possibilities of their motivations, solutions, emotions, and the influence on the environment.

Under the guidance of Professor Gu, trainees began to throw out their desired topics for discussion. One participant said that he would soon be 50, and his life would be entering into a new stage. He would like to discuss how to settle into life at a different age. Another participant, who had many encounters with physically or mentally unstable colleagues or colleagues who overreact, wanted to discuss the issue of losing control of one’s emotions. Another participant immediately responded that besides colleagues, if the overreactions of family members, students, or children were not resolved properly and timely, it would be like living with a ticking time bomb, and one would never be able to rest easy under such circumstances.

Because of these concerns and probing issues, Professor Gu posed the following questions: “What is the extent of a teacher’s role in the face of a student’s emotional traumas or family issues?  What is the nature of the student/teacher relationship?” One trainee pointed out that a teacher can never replace the role of parents. Teachers should only support at best and provide companionship at most. When students face difficulties, teachers can provide guidance and moral support. She explained to students, who were overly dependent on her, that teachers are not mothers. They should go home and try to courageously communicate with their own mother. Let children go back to their families where they belong and not confuse the role of their teachers with their mothers due to emotional transference; this is the way for a truly long-lasting relationship. 

In addition, some pointed out that teachers should proactively become the bridge connecting the interactions among parents, children, and teachers. Another participant, who used to be a biology teacher but who decided to become a special education teacher, reminded others to take good care of themselves in order to be able to assist more students. Over the years she spent all her time and energy on students until she was totally exhausted. It was not until she got cancer that she realized she had totally forgotten her own existence. After she contracted cancer, she became more appreciative of what she had at present. She lived everyday fully, seriously, and happily. Keeping yourself healthy is to keep students’ company in the long run.

This afternoon dialogue allowed all the participants to open up to many new ideas and perceptions by running along the veins of rational thinking without however losing empathy. They cared for each other and supported each other, as if revitalized in their busy career as teachers. Professor Gu once again pointed out, before the end of the session, that as long as we are willing to examine the current situation of our lives, willing to think outside the box, and trying to accept more and to let go constantly, everyone can be a cafe philosopher.