Posts Tagged ‘Beckett’

In teaching, you typically get what you put in.  The pseudonymous Russell Smith (no relation to the pseudonymous John Smith) at the Chronicle of Higher Education has either forgotten this or just doesn’t care.  Based on his recent post, it appears that the latter is more likely.  He writes:

I remain open-minded. What if my students are right? What if the readings are too long or too boring or don’t make sense? What if they know something I don’t, such as the fact that this English class truly isn’t going to help them all that much in life, and that such requirements nowadays are ridiculous and retrograde?

When all the world is abuzz with digital twitterings, it may be that the humanities requirement is a dead and rotting carcass that we tiptoe around, neglecting to bury at our peril.

I am perfectly prepared to accept the proposition that the most effective teachers have studied these questions and arrived at appropriate responses. I suspect that they have attended conferences, refined their techniques, and deployed their forces. They are able to see each student with fresh eyes, and they welcome the challenges of life in the classroom. I admire — no, I envy — them. But it is a rare and distant land in which they live, difficult to reach.

I can’t tell if the author expects readers to find his frankness refreshing or his ennui romantic (he is an English professor, after all, and while he discusses Beckett, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther seems closer to the target).  Maybe he would see me as naively optimistic about my own career in the classroom, but the same qualities that have drawn me to a liberal arts institution appear to be boring him to death.

Incidentally, the ASA’s section on teaching and learning is once again holding a pre-conference the day before the annual meeting.  Entitled “Teachers are Made, Not Born,” it is exactly the sort of thing that Smith gets excited about each August if he tries hard enough.  Hopefully those who attend (an application is available at www2.asanet.org/sectionteach/2009-application.pdf) will maintain their interest in quality teaching past “the first two weeks of the semester.”

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