A Tutor’s Perspective: In Conversation with BYT Tutor Emma Park

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At BYT HQ we’ve been having a truly fascinating time sitting down with some of our excellent tutors over the past few weeks to hear all about their experiences within the educational field, academic backgrounds and perspectives when it comes to education.

This week we sat down with Dr Emma Park to hear how what Classics can teach about teaching.

Emma holds a Doctorate in Philosophy from University College, Oxford and 2012–13 was a Latin Teaching Fellow at the University of Warwick. Having retrained as a Barrister between 2013–2015 and completed her pupillage in commercial and shipping law at a top London chambers, she is now side stepping back into academia to utilise her combined legal and classical knowledge in teaching. She is also currently writing a novel.

How Classics can teach about teaching — Dr Emma Park

“My approach to teaching is inspired by Plato, whose Dialogues I studied for my doctorate in Classics at Oxford. Although Plato was writing in the fourth century BC, the methods of teaching practised by Socrates, the hero of the Dialogues and Plato’s own teacher, are surprisingly modern.

The Dialogues are a series of philosophical conversations between Socrates and various interlocutors. Some of these are students. Some are colleagues from rival philosophical schools. Some are wealthy but unphilosophical Athenian citizens. And some are sophists, professional teachers for pay (unlike the aristocratic Plato), who are instinctively hostile to Socrates’ ‘unprofessional’ methods.

At the heart of each dialogue is the personal relationship between Socrates and his interlocutor. Socrates has a genius for understanding the individual he is talking to, and tailoring his pedagogical methods to their personality so as to maximise his persuasiveness. To some, Socrates tells mythical stories which allegorise the condition of their soul. With others, he uses rhetorical speeches to shake them out of their preconceptions. He encourages those who are lazy or disheartened, and tempers the enthusiasm of others with intellectual rigour. With his best students, he cuts straight to complex argument. As imaginative participants in the Dialogues, we can benefit from all of these methods.

Plato stresses again and again that the aim of education is not to ‘pour’ dogma into the soul of the learner — what we would call ‘spoonfeeding’. Rather, it is to ‘turn the eye of the soul towards the truth’: to develop the student’s ability to analyse rigorously and think both critically and imaginatively, so that he (or she) can form his own views.

Plato perceived that our understanding of a subject is strengthened if we think about it ‘many times and in many ways’. This enables the student to grasp the principles underpinning the answer to a particular question, whether in geometry, philosophy, or ancient Greek, which he can then apply in new contexts. The Dialogues repeatedly return to the same questions — the nature of virtue, knowledge, the soul — using precisely this multiplicity of approaches.

Nine years’ teaching experience has made me appreciate the value of Plato’s methods. As I have seen in practice, students learn most effectively when they make connections with their teachers, and when, working together, they hit upon a way into the subject that ‘clicks’ in that student’s mind. My proudest moment as a teacher is when a student asks a question that I had never thought of before.”

If you would like to book a lesson with Emma for your son or daughter please don’t hesitate to give us a call on 02077230506. As always we’d love to hear from you so please do get in touch.