The Lesson of the Golden Teacher
The largest lecture hall at the university was completely full. The deans of all the faculties and its most prestigious professors packed the front rows. Higher up sat the PhD students. Further back still were those enrolled in Masters programs. And a few undergraduates, those at the top of their class, occupied the remaining rows. They were all filled with anticipation.
At the lectern stood the chancellor. “We are honored today,” he began, “to have with us a teacher of exceptional reputation. He is known as ‘The Golden Teacher’. And we have all come here today to hear his lesson. It is a lesson that he insists be presented live — never recorded. He has already lectured at many of the world’s most prestigious schools. I have spoken with some of the chancellors at those fine institutions. Each one told me that they have never before experienced such a moving presentation. Each one stated that every member of the audience was moved by it. None told me anything of its content. So I am just as eager as all of you to hear what this enlightened individual has to share with us. And on that note then, let me call up, The Golden Teacher.”
There was respectful applause.
Seated at a table at the front of the hall was The Golden Teacher. He was draped in golden robes with purple embroidery. The collar of his robe was high and it covered his cheeks. On his head was a golden hat, with a broad rim. His eyes were barely visible beneath it.
He rose. He was short and his features small. The robes hid the shape of his body. He might have been a woman. He had no facial hair and his features were gentle. It was difficult to discern his age.
He walked over to the lectern. The chancellor stepped aside and made way for The Golden Teacher to step up to the microphone, and then took a seat himself.
The room was silent.
The Golden Teacher stood still for a minute. He had a straight and serious look on his face. His mouth was neither smiling nor frowning. His eyes then began to wander amongst the faces of those seated in the front rows. He gently gazed into the eyes of each one. He seemed to be rocking back and forth ever so slightly, as if nodding very gently — ever so subtly affirming something — something that those seated in the front rows already knew.
A full minute passed in complete silence.
And then, another.
What had been anticipation was turning into tension and stress. “What is going on?” people wondered.
And then another minute of pure silence passed. The Golden Teacher brought his palms together in front of his face. They covered his mouth and the tip of his nose, but his eyes remained visible. And now those little green eyes of his were locked on those of the dean of the faculty of education. He nodded again, ever so slightly.
And a few seconds later the dean of the faculty of education let out a big, long, loud sigh. He hadn’t realized it, but he had been holding his breath. His head dropped down for a moment while he finished breathing out, and after a short pause he drew in another big breath and looked back up at The Golden Teacher. He had a tear in his eye. His bottom lip was quivering. He brought up his own hands to his face and placed his palms upon it leaving only his eyes uncovered. He shook his head gently. Every eye in the room was now upon him. But he did not notice, for his eyes were back on those of The Golden Teacher. And now, he was nodding. He dropped his hands from his face and stood up. He bowed towards The Golden Teacher. It was a gesture of gratitude and respect. And then he walked to the aisle, down it and toward the exit. Before he went through the door he silently turned back to The Golden Teacher, mouthed the word “Wow!,” smiled again, and walked out the door.
The Golden Teacher’s eyes had followed the dean out the door, but now he quietly and gently again turned his gaze back to the front row. There the eyes were now startled, and a little scared.
The dean of the faculty of philosophy was next to act. “You sir,” he said in a slightly louder than normal voice, and then paused for just a moment “you have taught me something I did not yet know, but which I must also have always known.” He threw his head back and his eyes rolled upwards. He was staring at the ceiling, shaking his head. “Thank you.” he said calmly after a few seconds. He looked out at the rest of the audience seated there and it appeared he was about to say something to address them all. But just as he’d finished breathing in, he caught himself and raised his index finger to his own mouth as if to shush himself. And he quietly smiled, lifted his coat from his seatback, folded it over his arm, picked up his notebook, smiled broadly as if holding in a big laugh, and left without ever looking back.
The dean of the English department had now begun writing feverishly in his notebook. He was lost in thought. He wrote page after page at an incredibly quick pace. “YES! Beautiful.” he said after a few minutes. He looked up at the chancellor and with a broad smile and a soft chuckle said “Patrick. I’m sorry old friend. I was born to write. Not to teach. And I have absolutely no idea how to be an administrator.” He lifted his notebook and continued “This!” and he tapped his open palm on the open pages he had just written, “This is beautiful. This is …” he paused as he choked up, and with a whimper, he resumed “This is me. This is who I am. This is what I am. And I have to be me. I have to write.” He walked up to the chancellor, gave him a strong, long hug, then, with his hands on the chancellor’s shoulders leaned back and said “This, is goodbye.” And he too left.
Voices were starting to be heard throughout the auditorium. One of the school’s most distinguished physics professors shouted out “I do not believe the modern interpretation of quantum physics is correct! There. I said it. I’ve been afraid to say it since I was a freshman. But I know we can do better. Well, I think we can. There’s been others like me along the way, throughout the years. And we all got shouted down — or never even spoke up in the first place. But dammit, we’re not wrong! There’s something else going on than what’s accepted and taught everywhere. And that’s what I want to dedicate my life to. That’s what I’m curious about. And if there’s no room for me here because we teach the accepted theories, then I have to go where I can do my research.”
A young woman many rows back, herself a talented physics sophomore, who was one of his students stood up and yelled “Take me with you!” For a second the whole room gasped silently in discomfort at the confusion of whether it was him or his ideas she was demanding to go along with. She herself appeared not to know, having acted from an instant urge. But after a second’s worth of contemplation, she shouted out “I love you!” And then she leaped over the rows of desks towards him, one by one, and as she approached him he transitioned from having an awkward and embarrassed look on his face to having one of hope, then pride, then victory. And as she got to him he embraced her then and there, and they kissed.
Suddenly, declarations of friendship, admiration, passion, and love began ringing throughout the auditorium. Some were directed at other people present, others at people who were not there. People were leaving to go be with their true loves. Some of these declarations were directed not at people, but at work — at fields of study that required a change of course for the people making the declarations. One after another people were openly declaring their passions — announcing that they would change their majors, their thesis, their faculties. Some were announcing that they never even wanted to be in university in the first place and were going to pursue simpler lives, or careers in trades and skills they enjoyed and wanted to practice daily.
The room was clearing out as people, having decided what they wanted to do, were going out to do it. Some stopped to shake the hand of The Golden Teacher on the way out or to bow and say thank you, but many were so focussed on their newfound missions that they didn’t seem to remember anyone else had been in the auditorium at all.
After about fifteen minutes, the noises began to die down, and there were about thirty students and teachers remaining in the now nearly empty hall. They were all deep in thought. Some were scribbling into notebooks. Some were reading books and taking notes. Others had their elbows on the desks holding up their heads face down in their hands as they reflected.
The silence lasted for nearly five minutes before one of the students raised his head from his hands and looked up at The Golden Teacher. They made eye contact. The student said to The Golden Teacher “I’ve been scared — ashamed. My whole life, I’ve lived in fear. I’m only here because I’m afraid. Afraid of being where I want to be. But what am I afraid of? Afraid that someone will laugh at me? A little I suppose. I think I’m more afraid that I won’t be good enough.” He paused and looked into the eyes of The Golden Teacher for a while. The Golden Teacher nodded after a short time and the student resumed “But how will I ever get good enough unless I start off, however good or bad I am at it, getting better from practice — from trial and error?” The Golden Teacher’s lips ever so slightly curled into a smile, and his right eye seemed to glint a little. The student then began to sing, a little out of tune, but unashamedly, and in an unusual style of tune nobody had heard before. And he picked up his backpack and danced out the door, a little clumsily, but with a flowing set of movements that nobody had quite seen before.
And the room continued to clear out, one person at a time, each having reached their own conclusion about their own future, without a single word being spoken by The Golden Teacher.
At last, there were only two people left in the room. The chancellor and The Golden Teacher.
The chancellor stared at The Golden Teacher. And The Golden Teacher stared back at the chancellor. Time passed. The chancellor had a wry smile on his face. The Golden Teacher’s expression was blank.
Finally, the chancellor broke the silence.
“I never knew.” He said. “I’ve spent my whole life in education. I’ve seen hundreds, maybe a thousand teachers come through this school. I’ve sat in on thousands of lectures. I’ve lectured many times myself. I’ve attended twenty commencements and seen tens of thousands, perhaps even as many as a hundred thousand students graduate from this university. And I always thought it was the job of the teacher to share what they knew with the students. But here we are, now, you and me. And with you not sharing a single thing, everyone who was in this hall learned something that nobody else could have taught them. Because what they learned was what was already inside of them. It’s just that they had never looked deep enough within themselves to see. And what we all learned was that everyone can look within themselves, and see something that no outsider can see. And that no outsider needs to say anything to teach this lesson. That no outsider can say anything to teach this lesson. And it is a different lesson for each person — this ‘lesson of The Golden Teacher.’ I think, if you don’t mind, that I will offer to teach this lesson to each incoming and each graduating class once a year.” He smiled at The Golden Teacher. He knew there would be nothing said. He knew that the lesson was even deeper than what he had just uttered. That the lesson had something to do with him being free to do as he chose, without being lectured by anyone else. And at that, he too left the room, leaving The Golden Teacher alone, in his silence, to contemplate what he had learned in his own silence.