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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

in the classroom with a dissolving ego

I am one of two faculty "teaching" a junior-level course that meets for 12 hours a week. In the institutional way of accounting, it is 50% of both the students' and the faculty load for this quarter. I've only taught this course once in my career and its subject matter is on the periphery of what I would call any alleged expertise.

Trevor and I set up the class so that it will be a combination of guided self-directed learning and faculty-directed activities. This is of course quite shocking to the students; most of them are in courses driven by faculty decisions. I've noticed two remarkable things only after two days of "teaching" this course.

Student excitement and engagement: The research on "today's college students" indicates that many would rather individualize their learning, rather than sit and listen to someone tell them the way things are. I told them of the self-directed nature of the course, that we were acting more as coaches than "professors," guiding them through the learning and the project around which the course is centered. The response from the students has been "It's daunting and exciting at the same time."  They seem to be up for the challenge.

The felt reality of their respect: In the past, there have been times when I feel students' respect and other times when I don't.  In this course last year, the respect for me really waxed and waned. This is an area of technology that I don't feel confident in. I confessed this last year to the students, but when I really look, I notice that at the same time I was saying "I don't know," I was spending a great deal of energy in maintaining a kind of image of authority, or emotionally demanding their respect. I've let that go. The crazy thing is that "stopping" my investments in "making students respect me," has actually caused what I experience as more respect, freely given. But I have to say that I am treating them with more respect as well. Somehow letting go of all the energy I invested in maintaining my authority as "teacher" has freed me to spend my energy in being present and learning with the students.

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