The teacher’s three places

Image credit: National Park Service / flickr

In honour of International Teacher’s Day today, here is a short post about a pedagogical philosophy. 

The Indonesian education pioneer Ki Hajar Dewantara once formulated his education philosophy in Javanese thus:

Ing ngarsa sung tulada,
Ing madya mangun karsa,
Tut wuri handayani.

Which roughly translates to:

In front give examples,
In the middle raise the spirit,
From behind encourage.

We can see that there are three places the teacher occupies with respect to her student. The three clauses are imperatives, which actively urge the teacher to fulfil her mentoring duties.

Ing ngarsa sung tulada // In front give examples

First and foremost, the teacher is a leader, as such she is expected to lead in front and to give good examples.

Ing madya mangun karsa // In the middle raise the spirit

‘Mangun karsa’ can be translated ‘raise the will/spirit’, but ‘mangun’  can also mean ‘build’, so the teacher is also to edify. I think this adds a layer to the teacher’s role in the middle: not only she wakens the spirit, but she has a hand in forging it into maturation.

Also notice that ‘karsa’ has the same root as first clause’s ‘ngarsa’ which means ‘front’, or metaphorically ‘future’. This is the inseparable link between the first and second clauses. That in the future the students will be in front.

This interpretation is surprisingly similar to Singapore’s ministry of education mission statement: Moulding the future of our nation.

Tut wuri handayani // From behind encourage

The third clause is interesting because although it is seemingly parallel in structure to the first two clauses, there are subtle differences.

The preposition changes from ‘in’ to ‘from’ in the third clause. It is important for the teacher to be doing things from behind but not stay behind.

The verb changes from transitive to intransitive. In the first clause, the object ‘examples’ comes from the teacher. In the second, the object ‘spirit’ comes from the student. In the third, there is no explicit object; the teacher is simply in that state of support.

Needless to say, all three places are important and it is important for the teacher to balance between the three.

With that, I wish all of you who are teachers, mentors, coaches, or in other roles with teaching capacities: Happy Teacher’s Day. I hope that you will be an example, forger of spirit, and a source of encouragement to your students.


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