Just be yourself . . .

I really enjoyed all the readings from this week, particularly Sarah Deel’s “Finding My Teaching Voice” and Shelli Fowler’s “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills”. Both discuss the idea that though we are all interested in improving the current system, there is no “one way” to teach. I especially liked the reading by Sarah Deel as it reflects the thought processes through which I would assume a lot of people interested in being good teachers go. And the ultimate conclusions were that the best teachers bring their true selves into their teaching. I think this is an interesting point. I myself sort of fell into teaching. It was never something I thought of myself doing. However, during my residency, I was thrown into teaching some didactic lectures and labs. I had no idea what I was doing but decided the best way to deal with the situation was to be completely honest with my students. I was honest about myself (I too am pretty uncool and not interested in making any great sacrifices to change that) and what I knew and didn’t know. I ended up receiving some great accolades from students and even won a teaching award while there. Though I am learning and continue to learn new ways to improve my teaching style, I think my abilities to be honest are a great foundation. Like Deel, the more “myself” I am with the students, the more comfortable I am with teaching. Both readings discuss the idea that there are some common techniques that one might find useful to adopt, but there is no “perfect” or “ideal” teaching style. They are all a little different and can be equally as beneficial.

Why learn when you can memorize?

In reading Alfie Kohn’s piece, “The Case Against Grades”, I feel like a lot of what he is saying makes innate sense. When we know we are being assessed, we always want to be the best and come out on top.  I think it is in most of our nature to be competitive and strive to be the best.  However, as mentioned in his piece as well as the piece by Dan Pink, this most often inhibits any chances of learning or thinking.

A personally relevant example of this is how fourth year veterinary students are assessed. The first three years of veterinary school (here) are primarily didactic in nature.  You spend all day in a classroom learning lots of facts and a few ways to problem solve.  However, in your fourth year, you get the opportunity to use everything you have learned and rotate through the veterinary teaching hospital.  Here, at Virginia Tech, fourth year rotations are graded pass-fail (well, at least they were when I went through 5 years ago).  This was exceptionally relieving to me.  As a lifelong overachiever and fact-memorizer, I was just as Alfie Kohn discusses in his essay.  I was completely fixated on grades and would do whatever it took (ethically of course) to get the grade.  If I needed to pull an all-nighter to memorize a bunch of facts, spit them out the next day and forget them forever, I would.  When I had to write an essay, I would sit the rubric right next to my computer making sure to address each point whether it related to my topic or not.  (In fact, I once got an A on a paper with a note from the professor stating this was almost the worst paper he had ever read as it made absolutely no sense.  However, I had earned an A based on the criteria laid out in the rubric.  If THAT’S not suggestive of a problem in the system, I don’t know WHAT is!)  But, in my eyes, I needed the good grade to get into the good college to get a good job.  I kept this mentality through vet school (although now, looking back-it seems so silly).  When I got to my fourth year clinical rotations, I finally felt like I could take a breath and use what I had learned.  I wasn’t concerned with making the highest grade or knowing the most factoids.  The beauty of it was that I could focus on my patient, learn my case, and integrate facts with real world situations.

I think this generally applies to most disciplines. In real life, there is typically not a “right” or “wrong” answer.  You take what you have learned, integrate it into the problem you have in front of you and create a solution.  In my case, not being graded on an A-F scale in my fourth year allowed me more freedom to feel comfortable learning.  I’m sure many would agree that, I afforded the opportunity, they would find this just as freeing.

Is anti-teaching the answer?

Mike Wesch’s piece on Anti-teaching is a very interesting reading. I have to say that I was intrigued by the reference to contemporary techniques in teaching as “anti-teaching” and then traditional teaching as “teaching”.  He suggests that traditional teaching is a “hindrance to learning”.  I definitely see where this feel could come from.  Especially in the last decade, a lot has changed and such an emphasis on testing has made teaching about conveying facts and teaching to the test.  I completely agree that this is (ineffective) teaching as it takes away ALL interesting subject matter and only focuses on what is necessary to “know for the test”.  However, there is some value to didactic learning which I think is falling into this category of (ineffective) “teaching”.  Some students do actually respond to lectures and ppts though I agree not everyone.  Each student learns a little bit differently.  The nice think about the more contemporary approach (or anti-teaching) is that it gets students to think.  There is still a place for facts and figures but getting our future generations to think and problem solve is where contemporary pedagagy will be have such an advantage.