Tensions in teaching

Nov 29 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

I love teaching. Actually, I used to love teaching more than I love it now. I love teaching best when I am prepared and I know the stuff and I can answer the questions that students ask. Right now, I've got a lot of teaching going on. And I mostly love it.

But, I don't and haven 't always loved teaching. I've had classes with a bad aura/personality/whatever. I once, back in an A&S dept, taught biology for non-majors. They had broken up the 1000 person class into three sections. My  wonderful wonderful friend Tom and I were supposed to teach one section each. It was third quarter (back when there were quarters). We decided to split it into I do five weeks, he does five weeks, and we'd each do the two sections. That was not the problem. The problem was that about 1/3 of the students were pre-nursing (and did not have to take majors first year biology). They only did 2 quarters, and got to drop the the third, which was evolution and diversity and ecology. So the class had been 3 sections and now was down to two, hence only two of us.

Do not argue with me about that: I did not make those decisions, changes in sections, what nursing students did and did not have to do, and how many faculty taught. I did not set up the class, and in fact, organization was a nightmare of about 10 faculty involved in the teaching with the view decisions should be made and things should be done by consensus.

After dropping the third section, it turned out that there were about 50 students in the "prenursing" section who weren't nursing students. They shouldn't have been there, but they were. At that point they objected to the administration about their section disappearing, and how they couldn't possibly fit the other sections in their schedule. The college administration mandated the department to maintain that section. So, my friend Tom and I each did three sections for five weeks. That was a burden, but not the problem. Or The Problem. The guys who did the pre-nurse section for the fall and winter quarters were. They considered themselves mavericks.

If you hate boomers, you would really hate these jerks at the boomer/silent generation boundry. They were going to (and they used these words) "stick it to the man" These are white guys. Middle class guys, who worked for 3-4 hours a day whether they had to or not. No grants, no publications, but hordes of young female students trailing them everywhere. Nearly everybody got A's from them. Their version of "stickiing it", in this case, to protest having to do something so below their dignity as teach these sections, was to chose another text from different from the one used by the rest of the class. The remainder of the hippy-dippy faculty "protested this breaking of consensus, but to no avail. Everyone had "right" on their side.  Unfortunately the functional problem was that their text did not have a section on evolution, and the ecology part was not great.

So, I had the marvelous experience of telling these students that their textbook did not cover the material this term. They wouldn't be required to buy that text, but they would be tested on that material. There was immediate and unrelenting hate of me. Some of it was misogyonist (it was many years ago), so of it was young jerks trying to be clever. I would think: I am a rock of granite and this river flows around me. If self control was a muscle, I got a great workout, three times a week for five weeks. I actually found the two other sections, one of 400 and one of 250 students to be far easier to teach. All I remember of the other section was the dark room, and unrelenting desire to reach the end of my share of the term.

Sometimes when I get up to lecture medical students, first year medical students, and lecture at the end of their first term in medical school I am reminded of that long-ago class. The sparkle of getting into medical school is gone. For the folks who really want to be clinicians, the jump from endless book learning to working with people seems very large at this time. All of us are tired. Yet as one of my wise colleagues says: this is our core mission. We like the research, and even generate the money for the research, but teaching medical students is our core mission. Everything else at the school can disappear: HR, IT, the gym, the counselors, the layers and layers of administrators. In the end: teaching is the core.

Yes, all the other stuff is necessary, and makes the core go better. And these students are first and foremost people, with all the attendant chazerai that all people carry with them. Some of them will get it, and others will take longer. Some will get what I'm trying to do, and others won't. That's life. I need to focus on the core of what I do. And, so, its time to go lecture.

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