Zen and the Art of Teaching (Or, Holding Go and Hanging On)

Just read an outstanding post by Barbara Ganley, entitled
“Teaching the Blog, Blogging the Teaching�
. I gotta say, it is a joy to be able to follow such written thoughts. Ganley’s post explores both the foundation of teaching practice and the use of social software.

Her thoughts of her own learning experience echo those I have read by Richardson and others, along with my own spinoffs and reflections on what meaningful teaching encounters and imprints were on me. Ganley talks about the importance of purposefully removing yourself from the ‘sagely’ role of teacher:

I realize how lucky I am when I think back to high school, to Exeter’s Harkness Table, around which we were given primary source documents, novels and problems to puzzle over together in search of the hows and whys of world events, literature and mathematics. The teacher was there to ask, not answer questions, and the best instructors were nearly invisible and yet always there, helping move us towards understanding how we engage with the discipline at hand. (
Ganley, “Teaching the Blog, Blogging the Teaching�

This is too cool! I hate to repeat that mantra, but the teacher in Ganley’s words above was acting as a ‘guide on the side’ not the ‘sage on the stage’ . We are ignorant if we think we are the authority on what we teach, or if we think we are up to date on what we teach (save for those who have delved deep into specific areas–but even those, I would contest in the most respectful way I can, are not experts in their field…I am wincing typing this even now, but unless you are, say, the worlds leading researcher on Beowulf , you had best be looking to outside sources and pointing your students to the same to be relevant and truthful in your delivery. Even those on the crest of the information wave will (if they are worth their salt) readily point you to others from which they have constructed and mined their knowledge.

I appreciate that Ganley also notes there will be some discomfort in removing yourself from the ‘knowledge seat’ of the sage:

Many [students] think the magic of learning means to come under the spell of a charismatic, “brilliant” teacher whose lectures entertain and inform. Even in discussion classes, the students expect the teacher to do most of the talking–and indeed, if there were a study conducted, I bet most discussions classes are really call-and-answer sessions dominated by the teacher’s questions and commentary. (
Ganley, “Teaching the Blog, Blogging the Teaching�

I agree with this, but also must admit to moments of frustration where the Prof (the one I was paying tuition to hear) abandoned their post to the more verbally militant in the course. It may sound harsh, but I am being honest here: I wasn’t in the course to hear the ramblings and rants of other students. I was in the class to hear from the prof. Yikes. that was harsh.

There must be a balance between removing yourself from the knowledge seat and removing your knowledge from the room. Empowering students with the idea that their ideas and observations are valid is, in my opinion, encouraging them to learn, to explore, to think critically about their learning instead of swallowing wholesale whatever is touted from the pedagogical pulpit, but we also have to empower students by sharing the knowledge we have gained from others. It is a two way conversation, with giving from both sides ( Ganley’s words seem to agree with this–this is not meant to be a rant against her thoughts, but a trail following from reading them), it is a letting go and a holding on. Zen and the art of teaching…


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