Monday, May 10, 2010

College teaching...

Eons ago before the iPad, blackboards and indeed even schools, there were monks throughout Europe who were interested in the truth.  What was real?  These monks lived for the most part a simple existence studying, reading, and before the invention of the printing press, writing books.  You've all seen the elaborate and intricate designed books copied by these monks.  The only teaching that these monks did was to initiate the new members into their order--what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.  The primary purpose was to gain knowledge and perhaps to pray.

But knowledge was the focal point.  An interesting book that describes the problems and tribulations of one who was interested in knowledge but had to acknowledge the church is Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dave Sobel.  Essentially, Gallileo fell in love with a woman but since there were of different classes of society, could not marry.  A daughter was born from this union named Virginia who changed her name when she became a nun.  Tough times for both of them.  The church at that time espoused the fact that the earth was the center of the universe and Galileo and his new technology the telescope decided that the sun was the center of the universe and that there were other planets in our solar system.  Basically this did not set well with the church and so we have some political tip-towing through the land minds of those times.  Fascinating book.  While it is not the beginning of science it certainly is a portrait of an early era of the problems of science.  It is still going on today in this society.  

Why all this introduction?  The monks and individuals throughout the centuries have worked to find the truth and to pass it on to others.  There is a fascinating little antidote about the monks.  They would get together every so often to relay what they had recently learned--early research.  And as a group they would pick the least among them to make arrangements for a room, a warm fire, food and drink.  This person was called a "dean" and would take care of the logistics.  Least among them, eh?  How the world turns.

But the monks and these individuals who thought knowledge to be important were the beginnings of the colleges and universities.  They were our earliest teachers or professors--the Latin word profess means to "declared publicly."  I wonder if in the ages that are to come if I will be known as a professor or a blogger.  Maybe someday in the far future it will mean the same thing.

I have know some brilliant, fascinating, complex, and very knowledgeable professors.  But not all of these professors were also good teachers.  It is a profession that does not require teaching to be among the essential characteristics of being a professor.  You have to do research and you have to publish but you don't have to know how to teach.  One might study chemistry or fresh water organisms but be unable to tell others of your findings and your passions.  

For the college student there are two extremes--one is that here I am, now teach me something.  The other being what can I get out of this person that I don't know?  During the time I was working on my masters degree I had a professor that fascinated me.  She was so smart and intelligent that I immediately found myself listening intently to her lectures.  What new idea would she impart to me?  Sometime during that course I was having coffee with several of my friends who were also in the class.  They commented on what a terrible lecturer she was--why today she had over seven hundred "er's" during the hour lecture.  "ER's?"  I didn't know what they were talking about.  One of my friends explained that when Dr.  C. said a sentence, they would keep count of the "ers" between the in, "Today, er, we will, er, discuss, er, the effects, er of technology, er, er, on those chidren, er with muscular problems."  Strangely enough I never heard those "ers".  Later on I would sometimes hear them but most of the time I heard her ideas and information.  I thought her to be brilliant.  So much so that she became my mentor during my research project, master's thesis. In spite of her lecturing technique she opened the door to research and thinking to me.  I'll be always grateful.  

I had another professor during the early days of my doctoral studies who walked into the classroom and asked "what class is this suppose to be?"  Some of us answered and he continued with something like, "why so many--is it required?"  This went on for several minutes and I prayed that this was not our instructor.  To my dismay it was.  He seemed so disorganized--totally ignorant of what he was supposed to do.  Our class was becoming chaotic within the first fifteen minutes.  We students were arguing among ourselves as to what the course was supposed to be and why were we taking it?  Somewheres in that first half hour I realized he had done this specifically to start us thinking as to what literature and reading really meant in the public schools.  It was a good discussion and the members of the class, all experienced teachers were immediately drawn in the discussion.  Dr. S use to drive me nuts because he always asked us questions--we had to discover the answers.  We had to think!  I wish now that I could take the course over again just for the fun that I missed thinking.  

Some professors are famous for their teaching ability.  There was one faculty member in the history department that I would go over to see what he did in his lectures, how did he handle the student questions, did he move about or stand behind the podium.  I had a list of questions on my clipboard that I wanted to get answer for.   Each time I went to listen to Dr. T I got so involved with the history of Ireland that I forgot to get the answers to my questions.  He was fascinating.  I quit trying to learn about his lecturing techniques--I couldn't stay focused on my inquiries.  The students loved him.  

Teaching at the college level is a unique problem.  For one thing, professors have no one to teach them--they have to find their own answers.  But perhaps more important than finding the answers is knowing what questions to ask.  

I am eternally grateful to all the many professors and instructors and lecturers who taught me information, processes, and thinking.  My thanks to all of them. Have you thanked a teacher this week? 

1 comment:

  1. Hi - great article. I'd love for you to look at my blog -- I just started it with observations about teaching. I enjoyed reading through your blog and hope you visit mine.


    Susan Codone