Friday, February 17, 2012

"Good" Teaching ... Not Always What it Appears

My masochistic tendencies, as my millions of faithful followers are aware, have taken me deep into the bowels of academia once again.

This time I'm in a Ph.D. program at the University of South Florida in Tampa -- in the College of Education, no less. Ostensibly, I am studying children's literature in a program called Childhood Education & Literacy Studies. The path to literary paradise, however, is paved with courses in philosophy and policy and statistics -- lots and lots of statistics.

Once a week, I place my brain on the rack, pin it to a matrix of rows and columns of data, and turn the inferential crank until it is stretched one cog past snapping. Then I gather up the pieces, repack my cranium, and spend the week mending the grey matter.

This past week in stats class, we dissected an article called "The Influence of Gender on University Faculty Members' Perceptions of 'Good' Teaching," published in a 1993 issue of the Journal of Higher Education. The authors list some "generally accepted characteristics of "good" teachers and teaching situations: enthusiasm, knowledge of the subject area, stimulation of interest in the subject area, organization, clarity, concern and caring for students, use of higher cognitive levels in discussions and examinations, use of visual aids, encouragement of active learning and student discussion, provision of feedback, and avoidance of harsh criticism" (p.166).

My purpose here is not to review the methods used in this study. We could discuss such matters as the difference between good teaching and good learning and how one can measure teaching. How many years down the road when the "aha!" moment happens does it still count as good teaching? What about the cumulative effect of one teacher building on previous teachers' work? Was a MANOVA appropriately applied and were all post hoc tests completed?

We could -- but we won't.

My purpose here is to focus on the last item: avoidance of harsh criticism.

Speaking only for myself, some of the times I have grown the most deeply are the times I have received the harshest criticism.

In fifth grade, for instance, we were assigned to cut out and bring in a newspaper article. I hacked one out of the paper and turned it in, and my teacher held it up and commented -- in front of the class -- that most people learned to cut things out in kindergarten.


But she was right. Meekly, I took my clipping back and trimmed it neatly.

I have seldom merely hacked anything out since then. Sometimes I spend too much time on projects, searching for just one more reference, because I still hear her reprimand.

What if she had not made that comment? Would I have just been content merely to hack out an existence and get by?

Or is she the reason these masochistic tendencies kick in every now and then and I submit myself to being stretched beyond what I think I can -- or need to -- endure?

Bless you, Miss Robb, wherever you are.


Janice Scully said...

A thoughtful post about teaching and learning. Will follow along

Anne said...

Why, thank you!