Most people hold a dim view of teachers.
This is especially true of legislators. But it is just as true of any one-time disgruntled student. In the court of public opinion these apparently outnumber the well gruntled. If economics is the dismal science, it would not be unfair to label teaching the dismal art.
But if your have ever taught, you know that the classroom is a laboratory for remarkable acts of innovation. If you have ever been labelled ‘the best teacher I ever had’ you know where the true incentive to innovate your syllabus comes from. Regrettably though, the popular screed is not about preparing teachers with methods and tools for societal investment.
In stead we prefer to ask why teachers can’t make do with less.
As one who is fond of great teachers and great innovators, I can’t help wishing that I could learn in the classroom of Andy Selsberg.
…I’VE been teaching college freshmen to write the five-paragraph essay and its bully of a cousin, the research paper, for years. But these forms invite font-size manipulation, plagiarism and clichés. We need to set our sights not lower, but shorter.
I don’t expect all my graduates to go on to Twitter-based careers, but learning how to write concisely, to express one key detail succinctly and eloquently, is an incredibly useful skill, and more in tune with most students’ daily chatter, as well as the world’s conversation. The photo caption has never been more vital.
So a few years ago, I started slipping my classes short writing assignments alongside the required papers. Once, I asked them, “Come up with two lines of copy to sell something you’re wearing now on eBay.” The mix of commerce and fashion stirred interest, and despite having 30 students in each class, I could give everyone serious individual attention. For another project, I asked them to describe the essence of the chalkboard in one or two sentences. One student wrote, “A chalkboard is a lot like memory: often jumbled, unorganized and sloppy. Even after it’s erased, there are traces of everything that’s been written on it.”
This was great, but I want to go shorter. Like many who teach, I keep thinking the perfect syllabus is a semester away — with just a few tweaks, and maybe a total pedagogical overhaul.