The art of teaching

Eliza Fernbach - Drawing on the Arts

Published on March 2, 2014

“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”

― Gene Roddenberry creator of Star Trek


Teaching is the most important profession in the entire world. The greatest of arts as well. Whatever profession grows out of a passion, it inherently involves the paradox of giving to receive that defines teaching.

“Don’t be afraid of doing a lot of things at once. Perhaps this is part of the way you find your strength and focus” suggested Mr. K a teacher who had sat patiently listening to me recount the many things I was engaged in as I prepared for a special scholarship program in theatre arts at the end of my high school education.

This man whom I encountered as my high school advisor and one of my English teachers, was a busy person. He played the clarinet and was very engaged in local causes. What I remember most is the focus and attention he gave me when I was daunted by the decisions I had to make. This to me is the highest expression of the art of teaching; the nurturing of another soul to a place of strength and wisdom from which they can make sound choices.

Mr. K was also deeply dedicated to the genre of science-fiction, it was one I had little interest in. How things change. In my own teaching I have come to appreciate the merits of Star Trek.

I did my best to stay focused when some years ago a student started telling me about the real beauty and meaning of Star Trek TV series. I found myself enthralled at the religious and spiritual daring of many of the plots and stories and dilemmas that this student described. I vaguely remembered Mr. K triggering my interest in spiritual searching and the possibilities afforded for progress when the mind is engaged in the freedom of “what if?” He suggested science-fiction as a genre where anything was possible.

Recently the former student and Star Trek enthusiast came to me worried about taking a new job that he thought might inhibit his real desire to be a musician and composer in the achingly tough world that is the music industry. I reassured him the same way Mr. K reassured me. I was near tears when he phoned soon thereafter to share his success. After years of doing double shifts and other jobs, he had been promoted into a very exciting position. I’ve had the privilege of following the journey.

I still keep the same kind of contact with my mentors. At times when I am most concerned about not being capable of doing something that seems too much or too varied, I think about how often the gift Mr. K gave me has been confirmed as a way forward when I give it away to others. As my former student related his most recent professional success to me, I thought about my long ago Star Trek revelations and the way Captain Kirk and his crew survived so many challenges. I can hear the opening words of the TV show “to boldly go where no man — where no one — has gone… before.” 

Very soon students in Pictou will be boldly enjoying their spring break. Here’s to the adventures they will have nourished by the knowledge their teachers have shared with them. And here’s to the teachers who may well find more things to teach via the stories and treks their students bring back into the classroom. Indeed Mr. K advised me as the school year was ending that I ought to take a break before making any big decisions.

“Come back and share with me what you discover,” he said on the eve of my very last spring break.



Eliza Fernbach is the vice president of Visual Arts Nova Scotia. She is an artist and filmmaker whose focus is on Cinema Poetry