A Master of . . .The Latin word magister (teacher, captain, director) is the root for our English word “master.” The title “Mr.” is also an abbreviation for “master.” When we say “Good morning, Mr. Jones,” we might as well say “Good morning, Master Jones.” How is it that any man can be given the designation “Mr.” or “Master?” Connected to the idea of being a teacher, director, or captain is the idea of having authority—authority to lead and teach. Perhaps any grown man worthy of the title “Mr.” should have authority over his own affairs: his life, vocation, and home. Similarly, the female equivalents to “Mr.”—”Mrs.,” “Miss,” and “Ms.”—all derive from the English word “mistress.”
The idea of mastering an art is connected to having the ability to teach that art. “Mastery” of something (from playing the piano to painting to carpentry to gardening to dentistry to law) means having a comprehensive knowledge of the art and superior skills when performing it. In the medieval period a teacher, after being fully trained, might be granted a magister artium (MA)—a degree stating he was a “master of the arts” and thus qualified to teach others.
The Journey from Apprentice to Master
Apprentice (Assistant, Learner, Novice, Beginner, Neophyte, Greenhorn)
The apprentice might start working for and under a master as young as age ten to fifteen (in the Middle Ages), and an apprenticeship would last for a period of three to four years or more. The apprentice first would learn the most basic and rudimentary skills by imitating his master, but also had the advantage of seeing the master at work and engaging him in conversation and questions, as well as the opportunity to try out new skills beneath the watchful and correcting eye of the master.
Journeyman (Associate, Peer, Competent Craftsman, Day-Traveling Worker)
The journeyman, however, was not yet a master. In fact, a journeyman normally would have to work for several years, still under the supervision of his master, until he acquired mastery of his art or trade. When was he able to join the ranks of the masters? When he produced a masterpiece. In many guilds, once a craftsman produced such a qualifying masterpiece, the entire guild would assess the work, grant him the designation of master, and keep the masterpiece as a possession of the guild.
The Master (Mentor, Expert)
In this medieval context, as well in the contexts of the fine arts, the word “master” is a positive word. Generally, we appreciate the artwork of a master painter or musician (perhaps a virtuoso) or the craftsmanship of a “master” carpenter. The word “master” does have some negative connotations, however, especially in the aftermath of the American Civil War, since we may associate “master” with white slave owners. The word may also conjure up ideas of one group having “mastery” over another as a kind of exploitation or domination.
Still, mastery in the medieval guild and professional tradition can be a rich source of renewal and inspiration. Even in this modern moment, the apprenticeship model for training and education is growing and esteemed. Software and computer training employ this model, as does the military in various ways, and so do many facets of corporate training. Even the typical business internship can follow the apprentice model to some degree. In addition, the model has always been present, to varying degrees, in medicine (with resident training programs), architecture, the culinary arts, carpentry, electrical work, plumbing, and yes . . . education.
The Apprentice Model in Education
Even the progression from college student to graduate student partakes of the apprentice model. A graduate student can be perceived as kind of journeyman—one who is no longer an apprentice student and is able to teach (for pay) while in graduate school. Once receiving his or her master’s degree or doctorate, such a student becomes a “magister” or “master” and can teach without the supervision of other teachers.
This model can also be applied to educators in a K–12 school or homeschooling community. A teacher new to classical education at a classical school, with no teaching background, will need to learn the art of teaching. A brand-new teacher is thus an apprentice teacher; we might even say he or she is new enough to be a student of . . . teaching. We might properly call such a new teacher a novice teacher or an apprentice teacher.
After a teacher has been teaching for a few years and trained by other master or “mentor” teachers, she might properly become able to teach without as much supervision and oversight as she needed when an apprentice. At this point, she becomes a “journey” or “journeyman” teacher, ready to spend her “days” serving as a competent teacher in the classical tradition. She is still on a journey, however, toward mastery. Her ultimate goal is not merely to be competent, but to be skillful, informed, formed, and wise enough to train and mentor new apprentice teachers—and thus to perpetuate the meaningful training of classical educators.
A Word about Names and Levels
On ClassicalU.com, we have chosen to emphasize the three-step process of the apprentice model as a “journey” that each classical teacher should take toward mastery. We have used the language of “Level 1,” “Level 2,” and “Level 3” as alternative ways of highlighting this three-step process, and some schools and homeschools may be content referring to a teacher as, say, a “Level 2 teacher.” We do, however, use the words “apprentice,” “journeyman,” and “mentor”—or “assistant,” “associate,” and “mentor”—for these three levels. We have substituted “mentor” for “master” because of the connotation that “mentor” has of training and guiding others—ideally what a master teacher would do. Schools might happily prefer and use the word “master” for Level 3, and some might qualify such teachers as “master teachers who are mentors.”
Schools could also choose other traditional designations for these three levels. Borrowing from the monastic tradition, a new teacher could be called a “novice,” for example. It is possible to adopt the titles from college education: “assistant educator,” “associate educator,” and “distinguished educator,” or perhaps “mentor educator” or “master educator.” We don’t think the titles are vitally important, but we do believe moving through three levels of training, from beginner to advanced to expert, is important and that we should have a clear path before us upon which to travel, with signposts along the way.
We have also added a “Level L” for leaders and administrators. While those leading classical schools and homeschooling communities need to know a good deal about education and teaching, they also need training particular to their roles as leaders. By choosing the word “leader,” we opted for a word with solid English roots, from the Middle English laedan, “to lead, guide, conduct.” (We could have chosen “duke” from the Latin dux, “leader, director, general,” but there are not too many classical school or homeschool leaders wanting to be called “duke!”)
Three-Level Training Everywhere Else
We think this three-level model is traditional, classical, wise, and practical. We encourage schools and homeschooling communities to adopt this model, even increasing compensation as teachers move through each level. In our view, Level 3 mentor teachers should be given a reduced teaching load in order to teach apprentice or assistant teachers. What if a mentor teacher taught 60–80 percent of the time and observed, trained, and coached new teachers the rest of the time? What if a “principal” was a “principal teacher” (meaning the “first” teacher) who still spent 20 percent of his or her time training teachers?
Training by Persons
ClassicalU hopes to play a meaningful role in the training of classical teachers around the English-speaking world, but it will be a supportive role, working with teachers and leaders who value face-to-face fellowship, friendship, and service.
*We recommend the documentary Somm (2012) for an entertaining peek into what it means to train to become a master sommelier. The movie follows four men all preparing for and then taking the master sommelier examination. If you like wine and teaching, you’ll find this movie at times inspiring and astonishing.