Teaching and Emotion

One of the greatest pleasures of being a student is taking a class from someone who clearly has an enthusiastic love for his or her subject. I was speaking with Jack Barnard about his information property class a few days ago and he asked me how I felt the class was going. I complimented him for the enthusiasm he brings to the class. It’s so much easier and more fun to study with someone who cares about their subject.

When I look back on the many teachers I’ve encountered to date there are some that stand out from the rest because of their passion and intensity. In high school I had two teachers, Phil Abalan and Roman Borgerding, for history and English respectively, who changed my academic career more than I realized at the time. Before taking their courses I probably would’ve told people who asked that I intended to become an astronomer or physicist. Mr. Abalan and Mr. Borgerding changed that by sheer force of enthusiasm and engagement with their subjects.

I was reminded of this emotional connection to teaching while reading a blog entry by Bryan Alexander at Infocult. via Stephen Downes at OLDaily.

Networked learning, in all its informatic splendor and complexity, is certainly a dire threat to the deeply- and extensively rooted pedagogical practices of higher education. For instance, the Carthaginian professor didn’t defend his wrath by describing his knowledge of or passion for the subject; instead, he simply described his credentials, which we were expected to read as standing in for them. (emphasis mine)

Further, it’s a threat that’s partly irrational. I don’t mean to dismiss the anxieties - far from it - but to emphasize that Web 2.0, networked learning, etc. are simply not treated seriously in academic discourse, usually. Most faculty aren’t aware of many of these tools; moreover, their awareness rarely goes beyond the instrumental. Forces beyond the professorite conspire to keep the discussions rare and poor, from the Chronicle’s classic “internet: threat or menace?” approach to mainstream media’s clumsy grappling with this stuff, to the sometimes marginalization of librarians and technologists who should be prime participants in conversation.

I don’t remember Mr. Borgerding or Mr. Abalan ever using their credentials to justify their knowledge. In fact I don’t even know how much education they had. I’m sure they both had a bachelor’s degree, but beyond that it’s a mystery. The topic just never came up.

For one thing they were too good at their job for credentials to matter. But an equally important part was high school. It felt like credentials didn’t matter as much for secondary school teachers. As I climb the ladder of academia the credentials and the source of those credentials, a good school or something on a lower tier, become more important. But do they really tell us anything at all about the quality of someone’s knowledge about a subject or their ability to convey that knowledge to others through teaching.