Friday, October 27, 2006

ON TEACHING: Teaching by Allowing

Yesterday I didn’t actually “teach”, but I was still very much a teacher. All day long my students wrote essays in my class, so I didn’t actually teach any lessons. I gave the instructions for the essays and then sat at my desk while the students labored over their assignment. I sometimes felt a little guilty, as if I was earning my paycheck a little too easily, just sitting in a corner of the classroom grading papers while my students toiled away. However, as the hours passed, it gradually became clear to me that, even though I wasn’t front and center, even though I wasn’t constantly conducting my students as if they were an orchestra, I was still being a teacher. After all, under my guidance and supervision, the 40 students in my care each spent 45 minutes developing complicated ideas and presenting them on paper in a clear and coherent manner. Because I required them to, they worked silently, steadily, and efficiently to produce essays which exhibited their best thinking and writing skills. What this has helped me remember is the old truth that good teaching can have as much to do with sitting back and allowing as with holding forth and pushing. Yesterday I allowed my students to demonstrate their talents. I kept myself out of the way and made it possible for my students to show me, and themselves, just how much they could accomplish in 45 minutes. I was a teacher yesterday, though a quiet one just sitting at my desk in a corner.

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