Monday, February 9, 2009

Stages of Learning: Teacher as Performer

Felix Chronicles #1

Introducing Felix, and his creator, with notes from a forthcoming piece on progressive education:

There are lots of ways to be a good teacher, but I’ve always been among those who imagine my work in terms of live performance. Over the years, I’ve built up a repertoire of American history, one centered on some core content that gets shuffled and stretched, retired and revived, every few semesters. Each course I teach is a program or set, a collection of pieces I play in a series of shows that run a semester or school year. Like an actor or musician, I see my job in terms of leveraging experience to gain quick mastery over the material and achieving consistency, while at the same time improvising adjustments that keep it fresh. To a great extent, my ability to do this depends on audiences that are also collaborators. No two classes are ever alike, something every teacher who has taught a course (or two sections of the same course simultaneously) knows very well. Your professionalism is a function of your ability to deliver as well as your receptivity to unexpected challenges.

Of course, most of the time, this conception of teaching is something of a conceit; I spend a lot of my time – more than I probably should, truth be told – standing in front of a room talking to people who hardly think of themselves as being entertained, much less inspired. To some degree, my ability to do this prosaic type of work well may be the best gauge of my talent. But that's only true to the degree to which the talking I do, and reading I assign, or discussions I moderate, lead students to filter information, use what they learn outside the classroom, and collaborate productively in real time. These are the hallmarks of genuine progressive pedagogy, and the standards to which I strive.

Photo by Nina Freedman