Opinion: Classroom Perspectives

Teaching the Teacher: Introduction

Teaching the Teacher Series

Teaching the Teacher: Introduction

By Cameron Conaway

The “Teaching the Teacher” series is dedicated to highlighting a hidden benefit of teaching. It’s a benefit rarely discussed seriously and rarely, if ever, studied as the sub-field it deserves to be. It has nothing to do with pensions or with summers off or even with changing the lives of others. The “Teaching the Teacher” series is about how your students educate you.

The lessons of your students span an entire educational gamut–from various tips within your own field of study, to cultural, experiential and generational lessons. Their teachings unravel in myriad ways–sometimes through written stories, after-class questions or overheard conversations, at other times through their struggles, personalities or direct lectures on subjects they are experts in–technology, for example.

A student’s lesson will always happen, but may not always be evident. Only when mindful awareness (a purposeful recognition of their ability to contribute meaningfully to your life in predictably unpredictable ways) is accompanied by an openness on your end will their lessons shine, be absorbed by you and even impact your life well outside of the classroom. A teacher at all levels, from Kindergarten all the way to University, must enter the classroom as the respected leader and as the naïve student. While already implementing lesson plans, checking student work and maintaining control of the classroom, it may sound daunting to incorporate one other aspect into the mix. For some, it may even sound silly that a young student may teach you something about a field you’ve spent a significant portion of your life studying.

Experiences in the classroom are not just interactions, they are “transactions.” As literary critic Louise Rosenblatt explored the idea of how the act of reading literature is a transaction–a unique experience in which the reader and text continuously act and are acted upon by each other–so too should we explore the flipside to teaching, that is, how the teacher is taught. The “Teaching the Teacher” series vows to do just that.

Stay tuned for Part One in our series. We’ll discover how a generational gap can engender a type of learning difficult to attain unless fully engaged in a mutual transactional experience with younger students.

Cameron Conaway was an instructor for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and was the 2007-2009 Poet-in-Residence at the University of Arizona’s MFA Creative Writing Program. During his residency he taught in diverse environments throughout Arizona–from the Tohono O’odham Native American Reservation to lower income high schools, from University Honors classes to juvenile detention centers. His book, Until You Make the Shore (January 2012, Salmon Poetry) grew out of his experiences teaching inside the Pima County Juvenile Detention Center in Tucson, Arizona. He is currently studying Muay Thai kickboxing in Thailand thanks to the sponsorship of WhatsYourFight.com. To ask Cameron questions or to join his team, connect with him via social media at www.CameronConaway.com.

Also in the Teaching the Teacher Series:

Generational

Reminders

Cultural

Digital

1 comment on "Teaching the Teacher: Introduction"

  1. Guy McPherson
    Reply

    Thanks for this essay, Cameron. I look forward to following the series. My own two cents, undoubtedly overpriced, follows.

    During the last decade of my university career, I treated each course as a journey with every participant — including me — a part of the Corps of Discovery. By taking the focus off the student (i.e., moving away from the TQM/TQA approach administrators love) and off the teacher (i.e., abandoning the ineffective “sage on the stage” approach), we put the focus where it belongs: on the subject.

    Every teacher knows more about the subject than each student. But no teacher knows all there is to know. Good teachers serve as models by remaining engaged in learning about the subject they are teaching.

    This approach is effective only to the extent a teacher is willing to put everything on the line during every session of each course. And by “everything” I mean everything s/he knows, everything s/he believes, and everything s/he represents. As such, this approach illustrates how teaching, when done well, is simultaneously perfectly public and extremely personal.

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