So You Think You Can Teach?

As I write my journal, I am prepping for tonight’s class. Prepping for class nearly always puts me in the frame of mind of, "What the hell am I doing? I can’t teach." I’ve been working through this negative self-talk since I became responsible for teaching courses. So, since August of 1993. Here I sit, in 2012, thinking pretty much the same thing.

I don’t think everyone can. I don’t think everyone who does teach, should. I think some people are great teachers yet work at another profession.

My thoughts have been nuanced over time, though. I still wonder why I teach, if I do any good, if I’m challenging enough. By challenging I don’t mean am I burdening the student with generous amounts of homework and assignments. I mean, am I providing enough intellectual fodder to challenge what they know, what they think they know, and helping them discover what they don’t know.

When I pose questions to students and don’t get a response immediately, I don’t assume the problem lies with the students. Perhaps I did not ask the question clearly enough, didn’t provide enough information. I question myself, I “tune” myself, or coach myself, so I can ask better questions. Not all fault lies with the audience.

Recently, I read an article about the use of technology in the classroom. In particular, the use of smartphones in the classroom appeared to challenge one professor. The crux of the argument was, "if I spent 20 minutes writing a complex equation on the whiteboard, and I ask students to copy the equation to their notes, and two students use their iPhones to capture an image of said equation, do I have the right to get upset?"

My answer is, "Yes, you have every right to be upset. You are human, and a victim of our human foibles. Thus, being upset is within your right. However, analysis cannot simply end there. You really have to ask yourself, why am I upset?"

Are you upset you spent 20 minutes writing an equation only to have two students buck your instructions to manually copy, using precious class time, your handiwork? Are you upset technology use in your classroom has allowed students to defy your instructions? If those are your reasons, you should probably check yourself.

A faculty person at my institution refuses to allow students to have their smartphones out during class. I suppose a student having one out might be subject to public humiliation or some other penalty. However, what if the student used the smartphone to capture images of notes on the whiteboard. What if the student used an app on a smartphone turning his/her smartphone into a digital voice recorder. Could the student then have the smartphone out and visible?

Where does the reluctance of allowing the use of technology in the classroom – the appropriate use of technology in the classroom – arise? Are faculty simply using the bully-pulpit to control people, out of ego, or fear, arrogance?

Granted, students have abused technology during my classes. I’ll never forget the student, sitting in the dead-center of the front row, take a call in the middle of my lecture. I merely stopped in mid-sentence, said, "are you freaking kidding me?" followed by, "get out."

Outside of unacceptable rudeness, technology does have acceptable uses, and faculty need to be ready, willing, and able to accept technology in their classroom.

The question you may be asking yourself, after reading my diatribe over is, "what does what you say have to do with thinking I can teach. Of course, I can teach."

If your method of teaching has more to do with asserting your ego and controlling the classroom and treating students as children (unless they are children), then your teaching method leaves much to be desired. The classroom is confined space in which ideas and knowledge are communicated, processed, analyzed, and interpreted. The educational milieu operates on a much grander scale, well outside of the classroom. Educators at all levels must contemplate the ecology of the complete learning environment – including their own contribution to the learning environment. Furthermore, educators must question their own set of beliefs, assumptions, delivery methods, personality traits to improve daily their contribution to learning.

Yes, in the Socratic sense, you must question yourself; faculty must question themselves.

Because you are a so-called "Expert in the Discipline" being such does not give anyone the right to belittle, humiliate, or patronize someone sitting in a classroom chair. Being confident in the knowledge of the discipline is one thing; being an asshole through arrogance and egoism is something else. Being afraid of technology is nothing more than having one’s ego challenged. Furthermore, merely because you experienced assholes as instructors does not provide you the right to be an asshole yourself. Don’t fall victim to being a living anachronism.

The faculty member I mentioned earlier must lecture from a position of fear, or feels threatened by technology, and the loss of attention suffered at the hands of a smartphone. Ignorance might also be a contributing factor. Ignorant in the appropriate use of technology, or the beneficial use of technology.

I’m not saying I’m perfect, either. I often feel challenged b y students using technology in class. I’ve had my notes captured on camera. I was an early adopter of Blackboard. I embed YouTube videos to enhance my online course content. I film myself and embed those videos in my online courses. My students bring their laptops to class. My students use a combination of Google Earth and Wikipedia and the CIA World Factbook to examine countries and topics of interest. At times, I am questioned on what I say, as my lecture may differ from a Wiki article, or my lecture compliments a Wiki article.

We, as faculty, and as educators, cannot allow ourselves to assume an arrogant position of power, authority, control due to fear or ignorance of technology. And neither should we allow ourselves to use our bully-pulpit to belittle students out of our own ego.

If your sense of self-esteem comes from belittling students, if humiliating students provides you a sense of authority, you are not educating, you are not leading in the classroom, nor are you setting a positive example, being a good role model.

So, do you still think you can teach?

5 thoughts on “So You Think You Can Teach?

  1. Excellent points that cause us all to question ourselves. If you’d like to teach where technology doesnt interfere, come give us a hand. We are, in many cases, light-years from those issues! In many of the schools where we focus out attention electricity doesnt interfere either!
    Please check us out at http://www.teachateacher.org (just got our site up so please bare with us) and teachateacher.wordpress.com and Fb. If you know anyone who might be up for a challenge and would like to see one of the most beautiful places on earth, pass along our information. I didnt start out in an educational career but I find myself entangled in it now! … and it’s a worthwhile challenge! Thanks mac

  2. Self-doubt is a terrible thing. I am so full of doubt about my ability to write my blog and a friend really ticked me off recently, which was lovely 😉 Well, I’m going to do the same to you! I have very little time. Your blog isn’t about homeschooling but I love reading your posts! They are always interesting and beautifully written. You are obviously a fantastic teacher. I don’t have to have ever been in your classroom. You are full of self-introspection and respect for your students and this is the best thing a teacher can be. But I LOVED “are you freaking kidding me?” followed by, “get out.” absolutely right! Manners maketh the man/woman! You are obviously passionate about what you do. That is SO important. And I think you’re bang on about the use of technology in education, where appropriate it’s great. Keep up the great work and please keep posting about it 😉

    • Thank you so much! I’ve been reading your blog as well. You are raising “Global Children” who will excel above and beyond your expectations, no doubt. All parents should read your comments. You are an inspiration 🙂

  3. Ha…
    Professor you couldn’t be more on target. The question of whether or not you’re a competent teacher shouldn’t even be a question, but is it a good thing to ponder your teaching method and whether they are having the impact you want them to. Great teachers are the ones who ask themselves exactly what you have. I enjoyed your class and I often wonder how I might incorporate some of your tactics into my future teaching endeavors.
    As to the use of technology in the classroom,… really? I think the thing that bothers me most about those Professors like the one you describe, is WHAT THE HELL DID THEY EXPECT? I mean serious, I was explaining this to a professor the other day. I was babysat as a child with the beginning stages of technology. Television kept me and four other brothers and sisters occupied long enough for mom to get things done around the house and out/about.
    When elementary school came around, technology was how I learned to type. I started with a typewriter, then moved on to an electronic keyboard,etc. until I was using a desktop computer. As I advanced in age and grade level, so did the amount of technology I saw both in and out of the classroom and at home. If you grow up using technology constantly, then how in the hell can one expect us to be without it? I just shake my head…
    I can very well talk on this subject all day and night,but I’m going to step away from my soapbox and just say keep up the great work you’re doing.

    • You raise a good point. You were raised with technology. Laptops, smartphones, DVD players, XBox, MP3 players. Just exactly what do educators expect when the student body has been raised on tech? I don’t know.

      Change is hard.

      Look at basketball. There was a time when only lay-ups were allowed. Then, jump shots, but no 3-pt shot. Then, 3-pt shots. And with every transition, people gripe and complain. “Back in my day…” well, I’m glad some of those days are behind us.

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