We Are All Teachers Now

Learning With The World’s Great Teachers

We Are All Teachers Now—Learning With The World’s Great Teachers (Traditional)

By Robert DiYanni, New York University






Chapter 1        Socrates

Chapter 2        Plato and Aristotle

Chapter 3        Confucius and Sakyamuni (Buddha)

Chapter 4        Moses and Maimonides

Chapter 5        Homer and Virgil

Chapter 6        Sappho and Cleopatra

Chapter 7        Jesus and Paul

Chapter 8        Augustine and Aquinas

Chapter 9        Muhammad and Averroes

Chapter 10      Hildegard von Bingen and Christine de Pizan

Chapter 11      Leonardo da Vinci

Chapter 12      Martin Luther and Ignatius of Loyola

Chapter 13      Desiderius Erasmus and al-Ghazālī

Chapter 14      Baldassare Castiglione and Niccolò Machiavelli

Chapter 15      Michel de Montaigne and Francis Bacon

Chapter 16      John Amos Comenius and Horace Mann

Chapter 17      Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and François Fénelon

Chapter 18      John Locke and Immanuel Kant

Chapter 19      Johann Sebastian Back and Zoltán Kodály

Chapter 20      John Milton and Thomas Jefferson

Chapter 21      Samuel Johnson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Chapter 22      Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill

Chapter 23      Mary Wollstonecraft and Emma Willard

Chapter 24      Jane Austen and William Wordsworth

Chapter 25      Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe

Chapter 26      Margaret Fuller and Jane Addams

Chapter 27      Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche

Chapter 28      Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy

Chapter 29      Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois

Chapter 30      Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

Chapter 31      Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead

Chapter 32      Rabindranath Tagore and Chinua Achebe

Chapter 33      Jean Piaget and Erik Erikson

Chapter 34      D. T. Suzuki and Thomas Merton

Chapter 35      Martin Buber and Parker Palmer

Chapter 36      Neil Postman and Maxine Greene

Chapter 37      Leon Kass and Martha Nussbaum

Chapter 38      Kwame Anthony Appiah and Jonathan Haidt









At some point in our lives, especially now in the Covid-19 era, we realize how we are all teachers, just as formerly we have all been students. In one manner or another we remain students all our lives, and, in some capacity, teachers as well—of family history, of local culture, of national and geo-politics, of religion, of business, of science, of sports, of human behavior, of a profession, of the arts, of the environment, of life itself in all its plenitude and variety.

You may instruct in a classroom or a boardroom, on a street or an athletic field, in an office, a conference room, a factory, a lab, at a kitchen or dining room table, on a family room couch—most likely in a number of these places. In various ways teaching and learning are happening every moment in actual and virtual spaces, and in hybrid venues. Teaching and learning never cease, though we may sometimes forget this fact. And so this project speaks to us all as teachers and learners in these varied domains, however formal or informal our teaching and learning may be and however sporadically they may occur.

But just what do we mean by “teacher and “teaching?” As I have been suggesting, the concepts of teacher and teaching are protean; they assume many forms. A teacher is anyone who instructs another through example or experience, anyone who imparts knowledge, anyone who helps another develop a skill, talent, or capacity. A teacher helps others learn how to do things, from tying shoelaces to solving differential equations; from learning to walk and talk to riding a bike, flying a kite, cooking a meal, playing a musical instrument; navigating an app, drawing up a business plan; interpreting a chart, poem, or painting; preparing an architectural, engineering, or fashion design; evaluating a proposal or a belief system; coaching a team, raising a child, loving a partner, figuring out how to live a fulfilling life.

Teaching is the process of assisting the act of learning—facilitating that learning through demonstrating and explaining, showing and telling, guiding and enabling. As teachers we are interventionists; we intervene strategically to listen and question, explain and illustrate, model and evaluate. Through these and other methods we facilitate learning.

At its best, our teaching influences and inspires. Our interventions can have profound effects that shape and change lives, as teachers’ interventions can endure for a lifetime.
The most effective kinds of teaching lead to more than any singular outcome; they lead, rather, to a broader set of skills, including, most importantly, learning how to do and make things; learning how to think for oneself.

Learning how to learn.

At their most successful, the best teachers enable those they teach to do without them, to no longer need them. The most effective teachers make themselves obsolete.

But it’s not for you only. And it’s not for you in your professional capacity alone.

If you are a parent, this work is for you. As parents, we are our children’s first and often most influential teachers. In this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, parents have been thrust into teaching in new and more comprehensive ways, expanding their teaching roles. Parents have also had their responsibilities increased as decision makers for their children’s educational options, a role that has become unnervingly complex. Learning from great teachers and educational reformers can help all parents make better, more educationally sound decisions for their children. And for themselves, as well.

This work is for you, too, as a friend, because friends teach each other by word and by deed. Friends teach by example. And it’s for you, finally, as teacher of yourself, as a continuing provider of your own experiences in learning.

Each of us can learn from the world’s best teachers—past, present, and future. The most important thing we learn from them may well be how to become better teachers and students ourselves, teachers of others and of ourselves, master teachers and master students both.

We teach as we are taught—as we have been taught. We become what our teachers make of us—all those teachers, ourselves included. Who teaches us, how we are taught, and what we learn from that teaching count immeasurably. They count because, to a large extent, we are what we learn and what we teach.

We become what we learn. We teach who we are.

And yet some of the teaching we may have endured was almost certainly bad teaching—inept teaching, ineffectual teaching, perhaps even immoral teaching. From our worst teachers we learn what not to do. From our best teachers, conversely, we learn both what to do and how. Our best teachers inspire as well as instruct; they encourage and motivate us. We learn from their ideas and their ideals, from their principles and their practices. We learn, too, from their character, from their lives, from their actions, from what they commit themselves to and what they stand for, as they teach by living example.

For these master teachers, I consider briefly why they taught—what motivated them—along with how they taught—their teaching methods and practices. I consider, too, something of what they taught, providing an exposition of key ideas and values, accompanied by brief excerpts from their sayings and writings.

Every chapter concludes with considerations about teaching and learning inspired by the world’s best teachers. Most of those considerations summarize key teaching practices of chapters’ subjects—Homer and Virgil, Sappho and Cleopatra, Augustine and Aquinas, Emerson and Thoreau, Fuller and Addams, Keller and Sullivan, to cite a few. Other chapters’ teaching and learning considerations either imitate great teachers (Socrates Jesus, Luther, Bacon, Barton), or they appear as imaginary dialogues between them—Samuel Johnson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Sylvia Ashton-Warner and Paolo Freire, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois, Neil Postman and Maxine Greene, among many others.

The teaching and learning considerations I offer reflect my educational ideas refracted through the lenses of the world’s great teachers. Throughout, ancient wisdom and modern pedagogical ideas coalesce in contemporary practice.

I have kept the chapters short; they provide a brief overview of paired teachers’ lives and work, with Socrates and Leonardo single-chapter exceptions—Socrates as the West’s first great teacher, Leonardo its supreme example of self-teaching. For the work’s figures, you are offered a taste of their teaching; collectively, the chapters provide a smorgasbord of appetizing morsels to sample and savor. Taken together as well—and to shift the metaphor—the chapters invite you on an educational journey through the centuries and across disciplines and cultures.

Whether you are sampling a self-selected set of chapters, reading a pre-selected series of chapters, or planning on reading the entire work, I hope We Are All Teachers Now brings you pleasure along with instruction, enjoyment with information, and occasional inspiration as well.

We begin our journey with Socrates.


Robert DiYanni

Current Writing Projects

My current writing projects are linked below: (1) a book on reading literature (Improvisations); (2) two books on getting smarter (fast and across the board); (3) a pair of memoirs about my teaching life (50 years+) and my life with music (even more years!). Also included is information about my biggest work-in-progress: an encyclopedic summa pedagogica, with the current title: We Are All Teachers Now—Learning with the World’s Great Teachers (152 chapters—and counting—each chapter a dozen double-spaced pages, with most chapters devoted to a pair of great teachers past and present).

For each of these works in the making, I have provided a table of contents and preface. A couple of them also include a sample chapter. An additional book I have in the works is Poems to Live By, for which I’ve included about a third of what I’ve written so far—also with a brief TOC and prefatory note.

We Are All Teachers Now

Learning With the World’s Great Teachers


We Are All Teachers Now

Learning With the World’s Great Teachers


Simply Smart I

How to Get Smarter Fast

Simply Smart II

How to Get Smarter Across the Board

Improvisations on Teaching Literature

The Teaching Life: Why Teaching Matters

Living with Music: A Glorious Journey

Poems to Live By

Robert DiYanni

Robert DiYanni

Author ⪢ | Professor ⪢ | Consultant ⪢

Robert DiYanni is a professor of humanities at New York University, having served as an  instructional consultant at the NYU Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Center for Faculty Advancement. For these centers he conducted workshops and seminars on all aspects of pedagogy, consulted with faculty about teaching concerns, visited and observed classes, and provided a wide range of pedagogical consultative services. Professor DiYanni serves on the faculties of the School of Professional Studies and the Stern School of Business at NYU. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Rutgers University, attended a Master of Arts in Teaching program at Johns Hopkins University, and received a Ph.D. in English Language and Literature from the City University of New York Graduate Center.  

In addition to his work at NYU, Dr. DiYanni has taught at City University of New York, at Pace University, and as a Visiting Professor at Tsing Hua University in Taiwan and at Harvard University. As a high school teacher for four years and a college professor for more than four decades, Professor DiYanni has taught students from eighth grade through doctoral candidates. Most of his teaching, however, has been with college and university undergraduates. His numerous workshops, offered in more than twenty countries, have been attended by secondary school teachers and administrators, as well as by undergraduate college and university faculty and administrators.

Dr. DiYanni has written and edited numerous textbooks, among them, Literature: An Introduction; The Scribner Handbook for Writers (with Pat C. Hoy II); Arts and Culture: An Introduction to the Humanities, (with Janetta Rebold Benton), the basis for a series of lectures given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Modern American Poets: Their Voices and Visions, which served as a companion text for the PBS television series Voices and Vision, which aired in the late 1980s.

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