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The Art of Teaching

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The noted classicist presents his educational methodology, within the context of history, from the Sophists to modern teaching.

288 pages, Paperback

First published November 21, 1949

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About the author

Gilbert Highet

43 books51 followers
Critic and classical scholar, Gilbert Highet was born in Scotland, educated at Oxford, and taught at Oxford and Columbia for forty years. Married to novelist Helen MacInnes. Best known for teaching in the humanities in the UK and USA.

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5 stars
82 (40%)
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74 (36%)
3 stars
33 (16%)
2 stars
9 (4%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews
Profile Image for Mystie Winckler.
Author 7 books399 followers
July 10, 2021
If this has been on your to-read list for awhile, like it was on mine, I really encourage you to pick it up and make a start! It was not a difficult read and it was very encouraging and helpful.

Gilbert Highet in The Art of Teaching never says anything about homeschooling, but he does comment on the different modes of teaching. And we have the opportunity as homeschooling families, to take advantage of the best model, which classrooms never can achieve.

Tutoring provides a better education.

"It is far easier to give two one hour lectures to classes of fifty or sixty than to tutor one or two pupils for two hours, questioning, objecting, remembering, following up, arguing, defending yourself, and counter attacking and always moving toward a definite end which must not be hurried or overemphasized. And after giving two such tutorials, you are exhausted."

A tutoring model of educating, Highet develops, leads the student individually through three phases: first, create something (read, think, write, do the math, etc.); second, the tutor critiques it and goes over it with the student; third, the student revises his work based on the feedback and the tutor commends his progress. Wash, rinse, repeat, at least weekly.

"But for the pupils, tutoring on this system is far the best kind of education."

We can know our students and guide them on their own path instead of simply shepherding a crowd toward a general direction. But it is a lot of work. He validates our end-of-the-day (or middle-of-the-day) experience when he admits: “And after giving two such tutorials, you are exhausted.”

But it is a good work. Let us persevere.

Teachers Must Themselves Read

"The alternatives are only these: to allow your teaching to petrify by neglect, or constantly to refresh it by transfusions of new vitality and interest from your own reading."

It is a difficult thing to fit in our own reading when we have diapers to change, dishes and laundry to wash, plus multiple students to teach. But cultivating our own intellectual and creative life is vital if we are going to have the energy and stamina to keep up a life lived to inspire others to learn and work hard. Reading and thinking is simply not an optional activity; it is life-blood.

"The mind which is exercised in books is not being strained and stretched. It is being used for its proper purpose."

And, remember, if you are trying to raise readers, you yourself must be a reader, for

everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. – Luke 6:40
Profile Image for max.
187 reviews21 followers
February 6, 2010
Over the years I have met people who were students of Gilbert Highet when he was a classics professor at Columbia. He was by all accounts a gentleman of the old school, a genteel and erudite scholar whose lectures on Vergil's Aeneid and many other classical works were widely appreciated. You get a sense as you read this book of just what an amazing teacher he must have been.

Highet's writing is lucid, engaging, and straightforward. The flow is enlivened by many personal anecdotes. He first discusses the qualities that a good teacher must possess: he must know the subjects he is teaching; he must like these subjects; he must like his pupils; he must know his pupils; and he must know "much else." The teacher, Highet informs us, "is a man or woman of exceptionally wide and lively intellectual interests."

He then discusses the teacher's methods. He focuses on the importance of preparation and communication. Other chapters include one on great teachers and their pupils (including Socrates and Jesus) and teaching in everyday life.

He makes many sound observations about what makes good teaching, and frequently points out many of the pitfalls that undermine the efforts of even the best teachers.

He is quick to point out the basis for the title of his book. Teaching is not a science, but an art, he informs us, and this book is an eloquent exposition of why that is so. I recommend this book to anyone thinking about a teaching career; for anyone who has already begun teaching it has even greater value.
Profile Image for Roger Lakins.
10 reviews
August 13, 2012
This book was first published over sixty years ago. It still stands as a classic mind opener to anyone who is truly interested in becoming a teacher or in improving his or her skills as an educator. If you are only interested in band wagons and believe that no real learning has taken place before your appearance on the scene, this book will be a disappointment. Highet takes an analytical and historical approach to the greatest of teachers and their methods. In doing so, he provides one of the finest examinations of the methodology of the Classic Greek School a layman could hope to find.

Highet encourages a love for learning, a love for children and a passion for sharing only the finest with our students. My guess is that he would have been opposed to "dumbing down" on many counts, but primarily because of the lack of respect it shows for the potential of the student.

In a mere five pages, Highet manages to encapsulate the essence of what made Jesuit education so distinctive and valuable to the world of ideas. It makes it clear to those who read his words these many years later that the loss of Jesuit identity and methodology at their own institutions which took place in the end of the twentieth century has been a tragic loss.

By the time I left teaching after thirty years, I think I was on my fifteen to twentieth re-read of this work. I still needed to be open and keep up to date with the latest theories and findings and wade through the flood of latest and greatest found in journals and theses. More is being revealed. Let us make no mistake about it, though, Highet was a giant of a mind with an awesome soul. His attitude toward teaching made this veteran much less resentful about the lack of monetary reward my career has brought me. It made me feel humble and honored to have been part of a noble tradition of individuals who drank deeply from the well springs of the fount of ideas, culture, humanism and spirituality. It inspired me to want to redouble my efforts to bring yet another generation to that spring for nurture that they might live life more deeply and, in turn, attempt to leave the world better than it was upon their arrival.
Profile Image for Stephen C..
135 reviews6 followers
September 23, 2022
If you teach, train, coach, educate, or even manage others, and can overcome the direct masculine-exclusive narrative of the time this was written (late 1940s), you can distil truths and historic gold nuggets that are one illuminating and revisionist, in the best possible way. Seriously well laid out book, in the fashion of dale carnegie meets virginia woolf.
Profile Image for Tait Jensen.
117 reviews3 followers
April 8, 2018
This is a product of a far different time, and, thus, we must acknowledge the sexism and the subtle racism while still recognizing the jewels of wisdom contained in these pages. Highet outlines, with humor, anecdote, erudition, and a breezy style, truly fundamental principles of teaching, which serve to both inspire and educate anyone in the teaching profession.
Profile Image for Kaitlin.
20 reviews5 followers
February 18, 2010
Thus far my favorite book from the Education Practicum.

Addendum: one of my favorite books from almost 3 years at NSA :) Now on a mission to read everything this man ever wrote.
Profile Image for Frederick Heimbach.
Author 6 books18 followers
July 27, 2017
Really a surprisingly good survey of the various arts and crafts that come together in great teaching. As I'll be teaching a creative writing class starting this fall to H.S. students (home school co-op), the advice here is well-timed.

The book had its ups and downs, and Highet is not embarrassed to cover the most mundane areas (don't mumble!). Taken as a whole, the advice is bracing. I think what I most learned is the way teaching is an act of creative empathy; good teachers know their students and know what each student is absorbing and why.

At the end, Highet turns his attention to the great teachers of the classical world: Socrates, Plato, and Jesus. He describes the Hebrew milieu of Jesus' time, and describes Jesus' teaching style, in ways I've never heard, despite decades of sermons. Truly eye-opening.
Profile Image for Tara Callahan.
Author 5 books14 followers
October 20, 2019
It had great information, boring and I couldn't finish it. I wasn't motivated to learn the art of teaching anymore.
Profile Image for Ashley Cobb.
47 reviews1 follower
July 8, 2015
Overall this was a pretty good book and had some good nuggets of wisdom to offer the reader. It was written in the 1950's and it shows. A modern reader at first pass may determine that this book is dated "white man worship" filled with sexist language an imagery. I don't think that is necessarily the case. The author's referring to most teachers (especially in higher education) and most students (again especially in higher education) as male is more of a reflection of his time rather than any misogynistic intent on the author's part. To throw the "baby out with the bath water" so to speak would be to miss out on some good advice on what solid teaching looks like. The author raises some concerns about education that seem like they could have come from today's newlines. It has encouraged me in to see that there have always been issues with teaching and being a good teacher. It was well worth my time to read and has given me much to ponder and consider as I continue my journey of an educator.
198 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2014
Not teacher gift basket fodder. A very rewarding read, informative, sometimes even funny. As another reviewer said, it's definitely worth re-reading. Complex, but not overly so. Makes me want to read some Aristotle.
Profile Image for Jamal.
59 reviews6 followers
May 7, 2015
Considering my career as a teacher I had different expectations. The book, however, took teaching into another level that's so broad. The book is filled with other people's experiences in the realm of teaching.
Profile Image for Ben Palpant.
Author 11 books36 followers
August 12, 2016
Next to The Seven Laws of Teaching by Gregory, this is the most helpful book I have read on the craft of teaching. She rightly recognizes that all teaching is character formation and his advice Ames toward that end.
Profile Image for Frances.
154 reviews9 followers
July 12, 2012
My friend Andy recommended this book after my year of service with Americorps...I loved it and still use today as a reference and to refresh my reasons for wanting to teach!
Profile Image for Alexios Shaw.
59 reviews
June 9, 2021
A breezy, erudite work written in a real twentieth century, lighthearted intellectual style that I appreciate. Definitely felt like an inadvertent paean to a mode of literary life and erudite talk that seems less and less valued and in vogue.

The content of the book was good. There were certainly rambling sections which were mostly speculative and not particularly interesting, but other sections — his comparative analysis of the teaching methods of Jesus of Nazareth and Socrates, and description of the evolution of teaching style in the 19th and 20th centuries — were marvelous, informative and written in the author’s distinctive style.

I do find convincing the basic premises that teaching is an art, not a science, and that teaching is variously embedded in so much human activity— we just often use the wrong verb to describe what’s going on.
Profile Image for Amelia Hawkins.
42 reviews2 followers
July 8, 2020
Excellent book. It’s practical, personal, and even profound at times. Highet lays out what he has to say about the art of teaching in a clear and organized way, but he makes this plan come alive with many examples as well as personal anecdotes.
12 reviews5 followers
July 15, 2022
In my opinion, this is hardly a good book on teaching. In a few spots he praises the Nazi school system and contradicts himself a couple times. But it does give a pretty good overview of a couple philosophers and how they taught.
37 reviews
November 15, 2022
This is a good read as a teacher. While it is painfully dated at times, this man has a very romantic view of teaching. I appreciate how seriously he takes the profession, and it inspires me to be better.
Profile Image for Austin Hoffman.
273 reviews7 followers
January 15, 2019
First two thirds were very good. The last third was not as good. Solid, down-to-earth, common-sense instruction given.
Profile Image for Andrew.
83 reviews20 followers
April 10, 2014
Read most of this and flipped through rest. Its a bit dated, 1955, but presents a very down-to-earth personal account of teaching. It contains many great anecdotes of experience, and lots of advice for teaching. There is also a chapter on historical teachers and their students (Socrates-Plato, Plato-Aristotle, Aristotle-Alexander, Jesus, etc), which are great. A few pages on teaching in the Renaissance was also very interesting.

Some points to highlight:
-get to know your students on an individual basis. If you wish to have an effect on their lives, they must believe you are an ally, someone they can trust, and not resist you
-Be passionate about your subject, it can fascinate your students and keep them motivated
P27-“You must be the leader of a group – something higher than the actor with his audience, something lower than the priest with his congregation, something kindlier than the officer with his unit.”
-pride yourself to be a knowing and thinking person. Everyone are specialists in their occupations, and this stands for teaching as well, you should have a wider-knowledge than the parents you serve.
-you must bridge the school (curriculum) and the outside world for your students, and bridge their youth and maturity by your example
-motivation is not enough, you must also teach children to focus and concentrate. It is a skill and it is enacted by choice.
Profile Image for Wafa.
156 reviews1 follower
June 3, 2015
"There is no possible way to educate people except by calm reasoning"


I have always thought that teaching is like ginger; when you taste it for the first time, you feel shocked and feel that it is a very wierd tast that nature presents. By the time, you get used to it then you start loving it and feel that it is tasty. However, you can not drink much of it because it might hurt your kidnee. So, be careful dealing with GINGER (Teaching).

The Art of Teaching

Teaching is really an art. Although most people think that anybody can do it, not everybody will be great at it.

As a teacher .. nothing in the world will help you through the daily struggle with your duties and your students except your motives tward teaching..


The less educated the people are, the easier they are to convince"

Make it difficult for your students to be convinced

Profile Image for Ashleigh Pollard.
42 reviews1 follower
November 25, 2013
The Art of Teaching by Gilbert Highet is a chapter book about what makes a great teacher. Highet talks about how important it is for teachers to present what they teach in an engaging manner. Highet takes an artistic approach to his philosophy of teaching by presenting a variety of approaches that should be used in the classroom in order to get the best out of each student. I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone regardless if they are an aspiring teacher or not. The lessons taught in each chapter of the book can be applicable to a variety of situations that occur in everyday life. At some point, as humans we will all be in a student and teacher position which is another reason why I recommend this book. It is relatable and useful to all.
235 reviews18 followers
November 20, 2014
Great examination of the conditions and methods of teaching, along with some meditations on great teachers from history. Comparable to the seminal Seven Laws in its analysis and insight, though it's also a little more concrete and human (teachers ought to have a good sense of humor, Highet points out).
Profile Image for John Hammond.
94 reviews3 followers
April 24, 2012
The 'meh' of teaching. The first couple chapters had some enjoyable nuggets which I enjoyed thinking about. But as I read on I was left with the impression that the rest of the book is a collection of loosely related ramblings of a cranky old man.
Profile Image for Courtney Clark.
503 reviews7 followers
January 8, 2015
So much of this book doesn't relate to homeschooling, which is a rather different beast than teaching. But what DID relate was rich with wisdom. It wasn't an exciting read, but it was a very worthwhile one.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 36 reviews

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