Oh, the irony of Ot­ta­wa lec­tu­ring Ca­na­dians on how to ma­na­ge debt ...

But be­wa­re: li­ke onions and fun­gi, bad tea­chers co­me in dif­fe­rent va­rie­ties but all will spoil a stu­dent’s zest for lear­ning

La Jornada (Canada) - - PORTADA - Troy Me­dia co­lum­nist Ro­bert Pri­ce is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions and pro­fes­sio­nal wri­ting ins­truc­tor at the Uni­ver­sity of To­ron­to. Ro­bert is in­clu­ded in Troy Me­dia’s Un­li­mi­ted Ac­cess subs­crip­tion plan.

If you want to turn stu­dents off a to­pic, teach it in school.

The reasons are many, but one stands abo­ve the rest: bad tea­ching. Li­ke onions and fun­gi, bad tea­chers co­me in dif­fe­rent va­rie­ties.

Bad tea­chers of the aut­ho­ri­ta­rian va­riety turn class­rooms in­to fief­doms they ru­le as petty ty­rants. Stu­dents who suf­fer the­se tea­chers of­ten turn in­to people who are eit­her sti­fled by ru­les or to­tally un­dis­ci­pli­ned. Neit­her is good.

Bad tea­chers of the pas­sion­less va­riety - let’s call them bo­red - of­fer stu­dents so­met­hing dif­fe­rent: stun­ted cu­rio­sity and an im­po­ve­ris­hed in­te­llect. Stu­dents who en­coun­ter too many bo­red tea­chers can de­ve­lop a taste for me­dio­crity. They will hun­ger for pa­blum.

A third ca­te­gory of bad tea­chers: good tea­chers who went bad. They start out ener­gi­zed and see edu­ca­tion as So­cra­tes saw it: as the ligh­ting of fi­res, not the fi­lling of buc­kets.

But at so­me point, the­se tea­chers lo­se their fi­re, fo­cus, pur­po­se and pas­sion. Ins­tead of li­ving their vo­ca­tion, they end up fi­lling stu­dents with les­son plans de­sig­ned by cu­rri­cu­lum wri­ters in go­vern­ment of­fi­ces.

Can we bla­me the­se tea­chers?

With stan­dar­di­zed tes­ting a key mea­su­re­ment of their suc­cess, so­me tea­chers re­sort to ro­te ins­truc­tion to com­mu­ni­ca­te the set cu­rri­cu­lum.

Add ot­her obs­ta­cles to the mix - ab­sent pa­rents, bu­reau­cra­tic ad­mi­nis­tra­tors, exe­cra­ble union po­li­tics, digital dis­trac­tions, and aut­ho­ri­ta­rian and bo­red co­llea­gues - and tea­ching can be­co­me a spi­rit-crus­hing grind far re­mo­ved from its pur­po­se.

This ex­plains why we so­me­ti­mes hear tea­chers say, “If I can reach one stu­dent, I know I’ve do­ne my job,” be­cau­se un­der the­se con­di­tions, one is bet­ter than no­ne.

Not all is gloomy. Good tea­chers still walk the earth. I count my­self bles­sed for ha­ving en­coun­te­red se­ve­ral good tea­chers in my schoo­ling. They fas­hio­ned my mind and heart for the bet­ter.

My Gra­de 11 En­glish ins­truc­tor was such a tea­cher. Mrs. Clat­worthy was li­ke her na­me soun­ded: a clat­te­ri­ng suit of ar­mour, stern wit­hout being hu­mour­less, pos­ses­sing a sharp and glea­ming in­te­llect. She es­ta­blis­hed her aut­ho­rity on the first day with a wic­ked gla­re and in the fo­llo­wing days by sha­ring with us what she knew. I lear­ned from her; she chan­ged me. Not only do I re­mem­ber her as a per­son (she was far war­mer and ca­ring than her clan­ging na­me sug­gests) but mo­re than 20 years la­ter, I still re­mem­ber many of the les­sons she taught.

And so, I won­der, what ma­kes a tea­cher good?

Good tea­chers stand up. They stand for their aca­de­mic dis­ci­pli­ne and the know­led­ge they have been gi­ven. They be­lie­ve in what they teach and they pro­fess their be­liefs. Be­cau­se they be­lie­ve in what they teach, they hold the stan­dards of their dis­ci­pli­ne high.

They al­so stand for the stu­dent, who one day will stand for the dis­ci­pli­ne. To stand for the stu­dent means de­man­ding ri­gour. That is one of the ways tea­chers show res­pect to stu­dents and the ins­ti­tu­tions they ser­ve.

Good tea­chers al­so cul­ti­va­te an en­vi­ron­ment con­du­ci­ve to lear­ning. In prac­ti­cal terms, this means im­po­sing or­der, put­ting up walls bet­ween what be­longs in the class­room and what does not. To ta­ke one exam­ple, im­po­sing or­der may mean outla­wing smartp­ho­nes from a class­room. Why? Be­cau­se smartp­ho­nes are li­ke ba­bies: they de­mand cons­tant at­ten­tion and usually get it.

Good tea­chers build cons­truc­ti­ve lear­ning en­vi­ron­ments by gi­ving stu­dents a spa­ce whe­re they can speak their minds, work out their thoughts, be wrong and re­cei­ve co­rrec­tion - wit­hout fear of pe­nalty or in­ti­mi­da­tion by their peers or out­si­de con­cerns. Class­rooms are sa­fest when stu­dents can learn from what they think, say and do wrong.

I re­vi­se my ear­lier sta­te­ment. If you want to turn stu­dents off a to­pic, ask a bad tea­cher to show stu­dents the way.

But if you want to turn stu­dents on to a to­pic - that means tur­ning them on to know­led­ge - gi­ve them to that ra­rest and most im­por­tant of men­tors: a good tea­cher.

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