One of the things that totally boggled the mind of my darling wife when we came to Texas 18 years ago was that professors (my new profession) weren’t given any instruction in teaching. In fact, in the years that I have been in front of the classroom, I can count on one hand the number of times I have been able to sit in on someone else’s class and see how they teach. I guess that’s good and bad. I didn’t pick up any bad habits from watching my colleagues teach and of course, I didn’t pick up any good ones either.
The idea was, of course, that if you know your subject, that’s all that matters. But anyone who has sat in on a boring lecture knows that isn’t true. I have fellow professors who believe their only responsibility is to make the information available to the student, and that it is then the student’s responsibility to absorb it in any way they can.
But I think teaching goes well beyond that. Teaching is a social contact where I do whatever I can to communicate what’s important to you, and part of that is figuring out what methods work best in getting that info into your head. I’ve been a teacher long enough to know that there are some students who are lost causes, those who are determined to get through the semester without learning anything come hell or high water. But most people do want to learn something. They just don’t want to slog through a quagmire to get to the vital information.
Today’s project for me is working on the university’s website. I’m currently preparing the various academic department pages, and it’s interesting (laughable?) how many of those departments list author as a potential career under their major. English I can see. History maybe. But nursing? How many nursing students do you envision sitting through anatomy and physiology with dreams of someday turning it into a textbook or maybe a novel?
I think it goes back to that same idea: anybody can do it if you know your subject. Well folks, I’ve got news for you. It ain’t that easy. You might be able to write a nursing textbook, but most likely someone with an English or journalism degree will have to rewrite it so common folk like us will be able to understand it. Knowing it is not the same as being able to communicate it.
I remember being in my doctoral studies, surrounded by other doctoral candidates, overjoyed that I would NEVER have to take a class from one of them. They were brilliant, but knew nothing of teaching.
Pity the student. Pity the reader. Knowing isn’t enough.