Saturday, September 18, 2010

Teaching through the Invisible Wall

I proctored another practice test today. Practice tests are a long four hours and I finished Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the Construct of Philosophy and was able to cross it off of my reading list [1]. I also read two other works which I will discuss in detail over the next few days.

At one of the five-minute breaks in the four-hour exam, I asked my students how their college applications were going. People were nervous-- and rightfully so-- but were in the process. I told them that I was doing graduate school applications, and they were a nightmare because they do not have a common application and require a lot of strange GPA manipulations (depending upon whether the school is focused on your grades in courses in your major, in your last two years, etc). After explaining this, I realized that this attempt to explain my sympathies with the students' situation was precisely the wrong approach. They do not want to hear how hard my experience is-- or the things that may be awaiting them after college-- but rather they would like some encouraging words.

I always thought, while I was in high school, that when I became a teacher (I wanted to be a professor of course, but I figured that it was a similar principle) that I would understand the plight of the student and not be alienated from it in the way that my teachers seemed to be. My specific specific qualms were with busy-work, "creative projects" as graded material, and improper balancing of review and new material (in either direction). Now, I realize that there is as much of an invisible wall between my students and me as there was between me and my teachers. Maybe it is the inevitable position of being a teacher.

One thing that cheered me up was an essay that a student wrote today. The topic asked the students to consider what type of learning should be done in schools. One of the girls related a personal anecdote about a friend of hers sitting at lunch one day and complaining that school did not have enough breaks and did not incorporate enough creative learning. The girl questioned her friend, and through questioning the friend agreed that although it might feel that way, but the purpose of school was to provide a learning experience and that it was ultimately useful. I do not know if the anecdote was true, but it made me feel a little bit better.

  1. Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the Construct of Philosophy is fabulous. Andrea Nightingale utilizes a mixture of history and classical scholarship with Bahktin and a smattering of literary theory to provide an energetically written and scholastically footnoted work that provides a fascinating analysis of Plato and the development of philosophy as a genre. I will do a full review soon.
Genres in Dialogue: Plato and the Construct of Philosophy 

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