Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lang's On Course: Teachers as People

Lang's final (and very short) chapter focuses on figuring out the person one wants to be in and around the classroom. What sort of teaching persona should one adopt, and why? Lang confesses that he spent too much time and energy on this issue, but given that it is something we all think about, he addresses it and includes such issues as the following:

-How hard of a grader will I be?
-What style of management will I employ in the classroom?
-How much of my personal life should I share in the classroom and with students in general?

It is this last question that Lang focuses on, and I will follow him in this. Lang's first point is that this issue becomes less of an issue as time progresses, because we integrate our teaching persona with our selves, as our comfort level in the classroom increases. Relatedly, Lang says on p. 296 that "the more experience I have as a teacher, the more I am willing to allow other parts of my life, or other faces in my life--father, husband, musician, and so on--to form part of my teaching persona." Finding a comfortable level here will result in naturally staying at that level of transparency.

Lang's second point is a story, summed up by the advice from the head of a seminary: "Just when you think everyone's thinking about you, it usually turns out that nobody's thinking about you at all." This is a good piece of wisdom in and out of the classroom, according to Lang.

Overall I thought the chapter made several good points. Though I've been teaching as a faculty member for 5 years, and as a grad student for a few years prior to that, I'm still working through some of these issues. As I reflect, I definitely show more sides of who I am to my students now than I used to, including significant things such as my family and moral beliefs, and less significant things such as my love for U2, the Kansas City Chiefs, and cycling. Part of this is that I'm just "being myself," but I also think that many students appreciate a professor who opens the door to his or her life a bit. A significant benefit of this is that it fosters trust between students and the instructor, at least from my own experience. And this is crucial not only to an enjoyable classroom environment, but to high quality teaching and learning as well.

1 comment:

  1. Mike:

    I think you should allow your idiosyncrasies to shine through when teaching. For instance, your love of the Chiefs can be used to demonstrate the difference between sentence types and tokens by writing "The Chiefs will NOT win the Superbowl this year" on the board three time and then asking how many sentence are there. (I on the other hand will write "The Bears WILL win the Superbowl this year.") :-)

    Or you might explicate Anselm's Ontological argument by stating that "U2 is that band than which none greater can be conceived." You can then explain to them that this does not translated into the claim that "U2 is the greatest conceivable band" as is often done (and done with Anselm, too); for, Metallica is equal in greatness to U2, but not greater, which is consistent with the first statement, but not the second.

    As for your fondness for biking, you could use that to distinguish "know-how" from "know-that" or procedural knowledge from propositional knowledge.

    I often encourage my students to use examples from their lives to explain philosophical concepts. Not only does it help them understand them, it also brings some practicality to the table.

    I think another, perhaps more important, question that needs to be addressed is how much to reveal about yourself to your colleagues and administrators. I found that I was not really prepared for the politics and bureaucratic nature of academia. Is there a book on this subject? If not, perhaps one of you should write it.


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