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The Butts-in-Seats Teaching Philosophy

Posted in Process Stories,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on December 22, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionNow that people are grumbling about the usefulness of core courses and education that does not involve an MBA, I’ve been pondering the point of higher education. Is it facts? Maybe not. See what Dr. $hriaz has to say about that over at Worst Professor Ever.

After a few years in the Hamster World, I’m starting to think that education involves a sprinkling of facts and massive doses of the following three lessons:

1. Getting people to sit down, shut up and concentrate. I figured out this lesson when I taught SAT courses. The courses started in 9th grade and led right up to the test. I taught vocabulary and grammar, but I also gave practice tests, and you could measure success by how well the students were able to concentrate. You can memorize as many big words as you want, but it won’t help if you are thinking about your World of Warcraft scores during the test. Concentration is a critical skill.

2. Encouraging people to stop believing everything they hear. OK, this is the humanities element talking, but one of the best exercises I did when I was TA-ing was teaching logical fallacies by giving students print ads and asking them to list all the fallacies. Oh, bandwagon! Oh, slippery slope! I don’t think I transformed my students, but I think that a few of them were surprised to discover that just because something looks, sounds and even smells true doesn’t mean it is.

More after the jump! Image of Canadian students in a train classroom, 1950, from Library and Archives Canada, Wikimedia Commons.
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Teach: Tony Danza: “I’m always afraid they’re gonna unmask me.”

Posted in The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on October 6, 2010
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PhotobucketTeach: Tony Danza” follows the actor, whom we all know and love from “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” as he teaches an English class at a Philadelphia public school. This could have been a goofy reality show series, like “Tommy Lee Goes to College,” but the first episode shows just how hard it is to be a teacher. Danza enters the school full of hope, and by the end of the first episode, he looks exhausted. For those of you who constantly hear how easy teachers and professors have it, you should recommend this show to your critics.

The show is far from perfect. It’s over-edited, and there are too many framing scenes in which Danza and the teachers spell out their motives in an obvious fashion. Some of the kids look like they’re already auditioning for the next reality show. But the show does reveal how uncomfortable it can be to stand in front of the classroom. It’s hard to convey information and keep people interested at the same time, and being an actor helps only so much.

Being an actor actually isn’t Danza’s main problem in the classroom. He makes several classic mistakes that first-time teachers–both high school and college–make. For example:

Never act as if you want to be liked. The moment Danza walks into school for his first day, I felt uncomfortable because he so clearly wants approval from his supervisors and his students. This might be because he still has an actor’s need to please people, but teaching isn’t about pleasing people.

More after the jump! Image of Tony Danza at the Indianapolis 500 parade by Matt B. from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.
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