A Perspective on Teaching

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Ed by William Deresiewicz, entitled “A Jane Austen Education” has inspired me to go back and read Austen again. So many people love her work and I have not, but this piece made me think there was more there that I might have missed. (And, of course, after reading, I can then go read the zombie version!) The article is really about teaching. The author took the lessons he learned from a professor who was his inspiration, re-learned them through Austen, and applied them to his teaching in a way that changed his pedagogy for the better. I am intrigued and the story is an interesting one. I suggest you read it all, but here is one paragraph which speaks of how he changed.

He taught by asking questions, and so did I, but only now did I see how utterly different our questions were. Mine were really only answers in disguise, as if I were hosting some sadistic form of Jeopardy! I wasn’t a teacher, I was a bully. My students were the Catherines, coming to the marvelous world of college, bustling with new sights and possibilities, just as she had come, wide-eyed, to Bath. But I wasn’t Henry, I was Isabella. I wasn’t helping them, I was manipulating them—and doing so, to a far greater extent than I wanted to admit, in order to gratify my own ego. I was telling them what to think, even if, by trying to get them to say it first—in other words, by putting words in their mouths—I was pretending not to. I was trying to turn them into little versions of me, instead of better versions of themselves.

I want to make sure I am not doing this. How can I help my students to learn to think and to teach me?

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