Funny, how, now that I’m teaching, I’m supposed to have ideas about what’s best for my students

Funny, how, now that I’m teaching, I’m supposed to have ideas about what’s best for my students to learn, what it is they need, etc. They also have ideas about what they need. It’s possible none of us is exactly right. Likely their ideas are very far from mine — they don’t know what the world (college) holds. I at least have an idea, and a fairy recent experience at college, and yet …

Truly education is so broad. In Rockford Register-Star today, columnist Dale Dauten says, “People who go to college tend to have ambition and a tolerance for bureaucracy, and to come from backgrounds where they are born into opportunities and connections.” That’s key — part of college is in just getting used to/learning to operate in a bureaucracy. Fits in my recent theory (inspired by [my friend] Doug) how much current society looks like feudal society — corporations are the lords, individuals pledge loyalty and service to the corporation, etc. — and the university is where people learn to live within that structure: gaining the ability to be obedient and to please others and to learn the code of behavior — formal dress, interview skills, writing a resume, etc.

Yet of course education can happen anywhere — and as the book “E=Me2” (I started Friday & finished Saturday) points out, most revolutionary (as opposed to evolutionary), new-paradigm ideas come from people who somehow have an outsider, alienated influence on their perceptions. That is, they simply think about things differently than those people who are cultivated from within the system. Example: how Faraday’s religious perspective helped him imagine magnetic fields — not that he was right, but that this different perspective allowed for unique ideas.

Graded papers for 3 hours this afternoon; didn’t even get caught up with last week’s papers. The grading seems overwhelming, monolithic — maybe should be grading tonight but trying to get to bed early so that I can start the week refreshed —

Something I had no idea about before I started teaching (except for R__ I__’s comment last spring that I won’t have any time to do unique lessons but once a quarter or so): how much what happens in classes is not driven by what’s best for the students but it’s driven by what’s feasible: what is practical with 28 students, what can the overworked teacher handle, etc. I’m starting to see why teachers use multiple-choice tests — not because they are the best assessment tool but simply because they are practical — they’re easier to grade than essay tests, which might be more revealing, and certainly simpler to prepare and to evaluate than are projects/performance assessments. No one should be under the illusion that tests reflect real learning, or even that grades do. Here I am now, a teacher, giving grades, and yet I know these reflect primarily amount of work and innate talent, and only secondarily reflecting actual amount learned, ideas changed, etc. I admit that. Yet that’s the system I’m in — can’t change everything in a day.

[From journal of Sunday, 21 Oct. 2001, Journal 33, pages 80–82]

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