|Twas love at first sight! (At the 6th grade science fair)|
|At the beginning of every semester ...||and at the end.|
Don't mistake this for an overall judgment of my failure as a teacher. The students felt like they learned something, and they did actually learn something from my past classes. But I have always been painfully aware of the huge missed potential for learning and inspiration. The gap between those two quantities have always gnawed away at my soul as I read over the final exams, or question the students in future classes. Any teacher who thinks the students learn their content perfectly should have the (always humbling) experience of having that student in a class a year later. But I learn from these failures, and I love being in a field where I can learn from failures without fear (i.e. practice).
|It is impossible not to be wowed by the Lilac Chaser|
But most of what I have learned cannot be translated into words. This is embedded in the very nature of the practice of any craft, and in the nature of the practical wisdom that Aristotle described : it is context-specific and escapes general, rule-based summary. There is no one right pedagogy, there is no one right way to teach General Psych, or one right way to teach kindergarten. There are a few principles, that are right, most of the time, in most situations, which are good at guiding better practice. What I have learned is likely a lot more specific than even I realize. It may be specific to my teaching persona, or to that particular class, or to my subject, or to the age of my students. I am always surprised at how different 18-year-olds are from 22-year-olds, and this means that teaching each cannot simply conform to a few general principles.
|Next post: |
A history of Psychology in beards
|It's not turtles, it's practice,|
all the way down
More pressure to precisely measure the learning narrows teaching, and narrows learning. The successful assessments that I have seen are formative, not evaluative. No matter the evaluation, the instant that pay, or hiring and firing gets tied to them, they become hammers instead of scalpels. We may be able to boost that particular metric if we push really hard, but that often comes at a cost of other outcomes that may be harder to measure but are not necessarily less valued. Sometimes, that outcome is acceptable. In Atul Gawande's The Checklist, he describes how pilot checklists have ensured the remarkable safety record of the commercial airliner. But I suspect this emphasis on safety has come at a cost to innovation, energy efficiency, and price (whatever happened to Valujet?). We may be ok with an overwhelming priority on safety for airplanes, but in higher education, narrow accountability will crowd out many other worthy goals, not to mention people who value academic freedom and the ability to cultivate their practical wisdom.
Ultimately, part of the reason I love what I do because I can feel myself getting better at it (the teaching and the scholarship, if not the pithy blog posts) and I can enjoy the fruits of my labor. These fruits are not merit based pay, but the tiny lights of inspiration, of comprehension, of curiosity, going off in the deep recesses of my students' minds. The sparkly warm glow of reading about a new finding in embodied perception. A profession is defined by practical wisdom, and practical wisdom is not dispensed like manna from the talented, but generated by accident by people just trying to get better at something they find interesting.