Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mid Career Mike Gets Taken to School.

Humbling. I can't think of anything else to call it.

For reasons too complicated to go into, I ended up attending nearly half of the sessions of a new colleague's intro level class during our Maymester. This is a course I've been teaching myself for years, and one that I thought I knew pretty thoroughly.

Imperceptibly over the course of 8 weeks, the professor began to see me more and more as just a regular student - something I'd insisted on. I did the work, sat in the small groups, ran the laser pointer (cool!) on our team projects.

And I felt stupider and stupider the longer it went. I found myself adopting the same kind of stances as typical students. I thought the prof was less than clear with his instructions. I imagined there was something he was leaving out to stump us. I started to distrust him.

None of that made any sense, of course, but the herd mentality swept me up.

And I saw my own flaws as a proffie in him. He didn't explain why we did things. He assigned them, he took them in, he graded them. We weren't told why or what for. I and my new pals wanted explanations. Why are we going this way? What good is this for? One bad student's attitude leaked onto everyone. One bad apple really does spoil the barrel.

Even when we had a post-semester mortem, along with our department chair, I found myself defending the students, their concerns, their confusion. It was something I'd not ever imagined happening.

The system is set up to be antagonistic. The proffie sets all the rules; they sometimes seem arbitrary. Even when the class rises up, proffie stays in charge. It didn't feel democratic or right. And once the class turns, they turn forever.

I began to scribble down plans for my own next teaching in the fall. Make students part of the planning of the class. Reveal my own intentions. Be flexible to changes they suggest, and listen to them.

Whether or not September will still find me in such a generous mood, this experience was surprising. Are students the way they are because the system does it to them?