A culture of going above and beyond

by Carl Bossard

The political philosopher Hannah Arendt said that passion for the world gives rise to passion for pedagogy. This attitude can achieve a lot in schools. A search for clues.

During clean-up efforts I came across an old article. It is the story of the Ticino postman Guerino Saglini. He worked for the post office all his life. When he retired, the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” asked him what makes a good postman. “Passione! Passion!” said Saglini succinctly. Not a day did he go to work without joy, he added modestly.1

Every action is formed by how it is done

The people of Biasca appreciated the postman Saglini. He had a kind word for everyone, and even saluted them with a cheerful “buona giornata”. Perhaps the secret of his work lies in the simple phrase: "I loved this job." During 46 years. Saglini, a passionate postman, brought his personality into his work. This was reflected in how he worked through his way of being active, his way of thinking and his language.
  “Every action is formed by how it is done.” How it is done is more important than the job itself. The phrase goes back to the political philosopher Hannah Arendt. Saglini, the passionate postman, distributed letters and newspapers; that was his work, his daily job. But he made an impact on the people of Biasca through how he did his job. He created a relationship between himself and his postal customers.

The form constitutes the content

“The world lies between people”, Hannah Arendt emphasised when she expressed her gratitude for the prestigious “Lessing-Preis der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg” (Lessing Prize of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg) in 1959. 2 And this “between,” according to Arendt, is decisive. It is here that the common world of many people in their diversity and difference is formed.
  And a shared world is also formed in the classroom – between teachers and their students, in the interaction of different generations. That is why this “in-between” is so important – the emotional, the relational, the dialogical attitude. It arises and exists in how the teacher acts, thinks and speaks with young people and thereby how he affects them. To put it in old-fashioned terms, one could speak of the half-forgotten role model. Teaching does not primarily have an effect through what is taught – as fundamental as it might be – but rather through the already mentioned how of thinking and acting. The form constitutes the content. This primacy is the principle of all pedagogical action. Such a fundamental law leads to a culture beyond the mentality of mere accomplishment.

It is in the how that the person shows himself

A teacher can literally hide behind the what, behind the things and subject matters, behind the contents, methods and teaching aids. But no one can retreat behind his way of acting, his how. It is in the how that the person shows himself. And it is the person who has an effect in the classroom: with his commitment, with his passion for the world, with his feu sacré for the cause - and thus for the students. Teaching depends decisively on the factor that an earlier literature called “teacher personality”. Political correctness forbids the term today, but it still applies. Teachers bring their personality to the classroom – not simply their knowledge or, as it is called today, their “professional competence.” And it is to this personality that young people build a trusting relationship.
  “When she talked about shapes and numbers, her cheeks glowed and her eyes sparkled, just like when children talk about chocolate ice cream.”3 This is how one professional woman remembers her vivid primary teacher. Years later, she still sees her eyes and cheeks, feels the atmosphere and senses the joy of learning, as she openly confesses.

The inspiring teacher as reading facilitator

There was a teacher at work with a passion for the world of teaching and thus a passion for pedagogy. A second example shows how this passion can work and what it can achieve: Leading young people to read and inspiring them to read books is one of the most urgent and responsible tasks of a good school today. The way to do this is through guided, consistent reading training and inspiring literature lessons. Professor Klaus Gattermeier emphasises the importance of the teacher. He trains teachers at the University of Passau. It depends, says the German reading researcher without illusions, “purely on the individual skills and enthusiasm of the teacher”.4 He has been able to prove his statement in numerous empirical studies.
  Teachers as crucial reading facilitators have an impact through their example and enthusiasm. It is the how, that – via the what – creates life-long readers. 

Efficiency is not enough

Guerino Saglini, a postman by passion, retired early. Why? In the course of a postal reform, an inspector from Bern reprimanded him. Using a stopwatch, he recorded Saglini’s work steps and measured his delivery efficiency. “To take your hat off to everyone? That’s too expensive [for Swiss Post]!” the inspector from the Bern headquarters told him. Saglini drew the consequences; he quit his job.

The how cannot be measured

The functionary only measured the what, the output. The how cannot be quantified. Every good teacher knows how important this how is, every committed teacher has internalised this. This “how” cannot be measured, which is often forgotten today. According to “Lehrplan 21”, every piece of knowledge imparted at school should be able to be controlled and quantified as a skill. Competence grids formulate the learning effects; they are transferred into a testable format and recorded using the measurement methods of empirical educational research. It is not uncommon for the findings to result in rankings.
  The management has reduced Saglini to his efficiency and thus downgraded him to his what. Teachers are in a similar position; this is the view of someone who was a teacher himself, the poet Peter Bichsel. School teachers have “long since [...] become educational executives,” he laments.5 And many teachers must probably agree with him.  •

1 “Ins Licht gerückt: 16.862 Tage für die Post,” (Shone in the light: 16,862 days worked for Swiss Post) in: Neue Zürcher Zeitung of 23 August 2007.
2 Kahl, Reinhard. “Hannah Arendt zum 100. Geburtstag: Ihre Aktualität ist ungebrochen,” (Hannah Arendt on the occasion of her 100th birthday: She is as relevant as ever) in: Die Welt of 10 October 2006.
3 Ellinger, Stephan; Brunner, Johannes. Alp-Traumlehrer. Von flüchtigen Fledermäusen und multikulturellen Frohnaturen. Studierende erinnern sich (Nightmare- and dream teachers. Of elusive bats and multicultural merrymakers. Students remember) Teilheim: Gemma-Verlag 2015, p. 75.
4 Ebbinghaus, Uwe. “Nehmt die Schüler endlich ernst!” (Finally, take the pupils seriously!) In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 17 March 2021.
5 Bichsel, Peter. “Kinderarbeit im Bildungsvollzug” (Children’s work in carrying out education), in: Bichsel, Peter. Über das Wetter reden. Kolumnen (Talking about the weather. Editorial columns) 2012-2015. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 2015, p. 33f.

Source: Journal 21 of 25 March 2021

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