Teaching skills

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 5 Mar 1994 08:54:44 JST

First, applause. McGuire writes,

"What ever skills Ihave as a teacher came from me reflecting on the
good teachers I had had and then trying to apply what they did in my
own classroom."

While objecting to McGuire's sink-or-swim approach, Weinstein

"Most people I know who are regulars at the pool were formally
trained to swim by swimming instructors. That does not mean that
someone lectured to them about it. Teaching is the same way. It can
be taught, though what that means in this case is not defined by the
usual (boring) graduate/undergraduate experience."

Sound of hands clapping for both.

Learning the art of teaching after I got my first teaching job was
clearly a stupid thing to do. The students who trashed my clumsy
efforts in my first two years were entirely right to do so. To be as
lousy a teacher as I was isn't hard. Just do the following:

(1) Start from where you are; not from where your students are.
Surprise! What "everybody knows" in graduate school; only the
exceptional undergraduate will have the remotest clue. (This was
1972, and I was hot to talk about Turner, Douglas, Levi-Strauss...to
people who'd never heard of, let alone read, Boas, Benedict,
Malinowski or Radcliffe-Brown. I'd guess now that over 90% of the
allusions I made in my lectures were totally unintelligible. Starting
with Roy Wagner? Now that would really blow their minds.)

(2) Make sure it sounds complicated and doesn't lead anywhere.
Nowadays I still agree with Geertz that "explanation often consists
of substituting complex pictures for simple ones while striving
somehow to retain the persuasive clarity that went with the simple
ones," but I've learned to put a lot more effort into the "persuasive
clarity." (When I started out I was so involved in "On the one hand...On
the other hand..." that Balaam's ass looked decisive.)

(3) Criticize, criticize. Spend so much time telling people what's
wrong with what you're teaching that what they leave the course
with is wondering why they ever bothered.

So what can you do instead?

One simple, positive recommendation is to go to the library, do
consult the research librarian, and find some books on presentation
skills. (There should be lots in the business section!) Or--I'm
assuming that since you're reading this you're familiar with
computers--check out the literature included in the package with
your favorite presentation software. My personal favorite is Aldus
Persuasion, where the package includes a really lovely short
brochure on how to construct effective presentations.