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Thank you for this post. Throughout the years, I've won awards for teaching, but I continue to be astonished at how little I really know about the human condition and/or why people learn.

But what you do here is a type of teaching, no? It's just a bit more indirect, it would seem.


you know what this site needs?
exactly, a cartoon mascot.
if i'm charged a nickel everytime i stop by this site over the next year, somebody's making $18.25.


OL, I think I'm in young outer life shoes right about now. I've had a few experiences teaching and have enjoyed it very much, but these were very rare occurances where the students are as invested as you in a good outcome.

The first was helping run an undergraduate consulting club for the first few years as a consultant. I was teaching them interviewing skills, logical structuring, presentation skills, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. Of course they lapped it up because they all wanted to be I-Bankers.

The second was teaching our new hire analysts pretty much the same topics. Again, they lapped it up because their job (and salary adjustments) depended on how quickly they got up to speed.

I've always told myself that teaching at a college level would be different than younger students because college kids are invested. Of course, by doing this I completely forget what I was like when I was an undergraduate--intellectually immature and unprepared for the opportunities presented to me. I was one of those students freaking out about the weighting of midterms and finals and complaining about partial credit and grade distribution.

Teachers are definitely people to admire, largely because of the difficulties you faced. However, it seems that many teachers, when facing these difficulties have been abandoned by their administrations and parental support systems and have buckled under student pressure. This inability, or unwillingness, to confront students and demand achievement at even the highest levels of education is a direct reason behind the rampant grade inflation.

God help those teachers that can connect with students and insipire them to excel without grade inflation.


Another great piece. Mr. OL, unfortunately I was on the receiving end of countless TA's like the one in this story (I'm still having a hard time admitting that the TA is YOU, not an amalgamation of various TA's you've known). The university I'd been an undergraduate at was (and still is) a highly rated Canadian one, where the first two years we were prevented from attending professor-taught classes. It was the sole property of Teaching Assistants. In my final two years, professors conducted the teaching. The disappointment I felt with their performance was almost matched by the TA's work. The profs and the TA's basically just wanted to be in the compnay of each other; we underclassmen were the unfortunate rabble that provided the means of their getting together.
This experience was the driving force for making sure my kids went to colleges where there were no TA's and there was not excessive pressure on professors to publish or do research work. Their sole purpose was to do the impossible, teach.


I thought I was a good teacher until I was left on my own one day with a chorus class of 35 high school students, lifers in the Waldorf School system. The Waldorf view of kids (to avoid Steiner doublespeak I will boil it down thus: children are angelic and easily molded into new age spiritualists) fits less and less well as they roar into puberty. I was told later this group is a "pack of wolves." They took me down.

Joeyann Palowoda

This story really saddens me, but it also kind of disturbs me. I have been teaching college English courses for going on three years now, and I have often contemplated my teaching style. How responsible are we suppose to feel for what students do outside of the classroom? I've only had a few "problem" students, and as I think of one specifically, I know, simply because I was his teacher, I indirectly became involved in the dilemmas of his everyday life. He was smart, just as smart as me, I guess all my students are in a way--But this kid had a way of focusing the frustrations of his everyday life into specific conversations involving my class assignments. The kid was very intense, and when I think back on it, I think maybe we might have been a little attracted to each other. We were both young, tall, dark hair, and eyes--and there was just some kind of tension between us that scared the shit out of me. I was very conscious of trying not to seem dominating in an obvious way, which is something younger female instructors have to stay be aware of when teaching men their age or older. Anyway, I was glad when the semester was over, because I felt like he just seemed to take the class too personal--he took me, and the grades too serious, and it seemed like each time he argued a grade on his paper, I was less forgiving with the next one. He swore a shit load in class, came in late everyday, etc.-- I had students from the class tell me to kick him out, but I just couldn’t. He had problems, and, by not, at least indirectly, dealing with his life problems, I felt like a failure. The material I teach is important to me, but I know what a luxury it is to be able to sit back, relax, and listen to a teacher drone on about the importance of a thesis statement. You're life has to be relatively stable in order to learn and memorize, and I knew this kid’s was not. But what do you do when you know all this, yet can't do anything about it? I don't think I'm the Joan of Arc here, but, as an instructor, I feel responsible for the role I take--not just to teach students content, but to guild them, to act as a role model, a mentor, show compassion and so on. This kid never killed himself, but there were times that I knew without a doubt that he did not separate his "home life" with his "classroom life," and I'm sure I would have felt partially responsible if he did hurt himself--I guess mostly because I indirectly take on the responsibility of the student’s emotions, when I decided to pose as their guild. Learning changes people, and anytime a person changes, they have to let an old part of themselves go. For people who are stable, learning is no problem, it's even fun, and can break up the monotony of everyday life--but what about the others, what do we do with the people who may be going through some real life problems, but need to learn-- need to learn so maybe some of these real life problems stop happening, need to learn so they can get good grades, degrees, and decent paying jobs? What do we do when they come to our classroom, emotionally charged, believing education is the magic answer, and we run out of magic tricks? Yes, teaches don't really "produce" anything. For the most part what we do can't be measured, packed up tightly in a little box and sent over to India for triple the cost. We don't "do" in that way. We're theoretical, we teach, we hope, we create an atmosphere, an environment that hopefully makes a student feel safe and comfortable, so that they can learn, and accept their new changing selves. Good teachers take on a kind of responsibility that only other good teachers understand—but sometimes we' start off young, we're not stable enough ourselves. We don't know how to make students feel comfortable in the classroom because we don't feel comfortable either. I suspect that all of that kind of thing comes with time, though only the most persistent ones will find it out.

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