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Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Lurker Speaks

After briefly participating in the meeting today, I am finally contributing to the blog as I said I would.

Just a brief thought in response to a comment about "public humiliation" that was brought up. Rather than comment on the phrase I did want to say that it brought up in my mind the idea of what we think we might want from students in the classroom versus what would make our own lives easier in the classroom. I sometimes wish that the students would be clones of myself -- curious, thoughtful, willing to make a comment and, most importantly willing to learn. Of course, this would make my teaching life easier in so many ways. I could relate to students better, all my course preparation would make sense (and my lack of preparation wouldn't matter because they/I would obviously understand) and we could make lots of progress in the time together.

This is, of course, absurd.
In many ways it is only one step away from preaching/teaching to the choir -- it wouldn't be that hard and any progress is not really because of me. The hard thing is getting someone who is completely unlike me to learn -- someone who doesn't necessarily share all my same values but should still expect to learn something from me. I think this requires a capacity to change/adjust for both myself and the student and it sometimes requires multiple methods. I have not always found students who are very willing to challenge me pleasant to be around but I do know that I want to be able reach them which somehow involves getting them out of their own comfort zone. This can often involve challenging them in a certain way that would not work on those students who are more like me or who are less confrontational by nature. Thus, the connection to the "public humiliation" comment. Sometimes people who are considered egotistical, confrontational will not respond (or not respond as quickly) to a more thoughtful process that we, as faculty, may prefer. Not that it has happened to me very often but I do know that I have to be willing to challenge the confrontational student in a certain way just to determine if this is their nature (less aware of how they are coming across or not caring how they come across) or if they have real problems with me as a person/instructor. It matters which since the first means that I have to accept a different approach to learning and the second means that learning probably won't occur. The first type of learner is often really good to have because it keeps me from getting too comfortable -- it helps me make sure that I really think about what I am doing in the classroom.

So, I have to remember that diversity comes in all types and that my job is to deal with that diversity -- which is why I find this project so satisfying. I am in an ongoing process of having my way of doing things challenged by people are not really like me or not the way I have become after teaching so many years at Cal Poly. I have to admit, my attitude towards a lot of people at Cal Poly has changed over the past three years -- I am much more appreciative of faculty who I used to think were not serious/rigorous in the traditional ways and, when I observe these people teach, I am finding that I really appreciate their ability to reach students and engage them. I think I have been able to reach and engage students in the past but now I know that I can try other ways. Oh, and I am so much more humble than I used to be ;-).


  1. Thanks Neal! My kids and I have this saying: "I use to be conceited, but now I am perfect!"


  2. See Neal, that wasn't so bad. Thanks for these thoughts. I've been thinking about the public humiliation approach too.