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Thread: The Teacher's Dilemma?

  1. #1
    Sysop Ptah's Avatar
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    The Teacher's Dilemma?

    I figure there would be three overall focus-areas into which a teacher might invest their time/interest (when: the teacher actually gives a damn about teaching or being a teacher):

    • Students: an interest in fomenting the growth and development of the students themselves, qua people, as distinct from their education in the subjects(s) at hand
    • Subject(s): an interest in fomenting the teacher's own growth and development in the subject(s) at hand, as distinct from teaching it to students
    • Teaching: an interest in developing or practicing teaching-itself, taken as a personal skill of value by the teacher, as distinct from any given subject(s) being taught.


    I further imagine that over any given period for any given teacher, two or all three of these interests are to some extent or another, at various points to different degrees, each actively driving their behavior overall as both educators and individuals.

    Necessary Triage?
    But it would seem to me that at some point -- if not at many points along the way -- a teacher would face the need to prioritize -- if not triage as in selectively drop/devalue some of -- these values as manifest in their work-life. For instance, favor the personal development of the student over their education. Or favor their own personal interest in the subject(s) -- if not the practice of teaching itself -- over that of their student's personal and/or educational developments.

    Personality Influence
    I further imagine that in such times, the teacher's particular individual personality disposes them to develop one particular prioritization pattern, with whatever particular angle-of-favor? (which raises the tangential wonder of: would corollary patterns emerge across mbti types as such? I suspect so)

    The Quandary
    Anyhow, to me this whole idea presents itself as what I call "the teacher's dilemma" because to me it raises a (pseudo-)ethical -- perhaps simply personal value-system(?) -- quandary: what is the proper orientaton of a teacher as such? Who and/or what ought they value primarily? If not overall then at times where only one value can be obtained/preserved?

    The Unsustainable Ideal?
    Now ideally, we can imagine that a teacher's pursuit of all three value-types are integrated in that their actions/work-life-style has it such that two if not all three values are accomplished in concert through fused-purpose actions/behaviors; so that, in general, all three are hit without the focus on any one of them in particular, but rather upon all three in gestalt. But this seems rather unrealistically ideal to sustain indefinately and/or without challenge if not interruption. At best, I'd say such an integrated teacher would still at some point (if not many along the way) face a moment of crisis, during which their value-system becomes unraveled and priorities come to the fore, perforce limited options or some such. And so here we'd have the default personality-disposition coming out, if not explicit, deliberate "what-if?" contingency planning taking over. That is: in reality, the prioritization cannot be entirely avoided. Its there either implicitly or explicitly, called upon often or otherwise.

    Which returns me to the quandary -- which is the proper, primary value of a teacher? And/or what is the proper order or synthesis of these values? For the individual sakes of both teacher and any/all student(s)?



    (Reason why I'd never be a teacher -- much as I might like to be one, imaginatively -- even if the opportunity was handed to me free and clear: How to resolve this dilemma?)

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
    Member Krill's Avatar
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    Some quick thoughts:

    I think this would depend, in part, on the institution the teacher is involved in. At pre-collegiate levels, the teacher's own growth with the subject is less important than their competence in teaching it. At collegiate levels, the situation complicates. For students that are not undertaking to engage in serious long-term research of the subject area I think the position is pretty similar to pre-collegiate education: they should have enough competence to impart useful competence to the student.

    When we come to students who are undertaking to engage in serious long-term research, priorities must necessarily shift: the teacher will need to be a researcher themselves in order to have the necessary competency to teach how to engage in proper research. Here, it becomes more akin to an apprenticeship. Perhaps the difficulty arises from combining the two at the collegiate level rather than treating them as separate.

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    gryffindor Hermione's Avatar
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    .. the teacher's particular individual personality disposes them to develop one particular prioritization pattern, with whatever particular angle-of-favor? (which raises the tangential wonder of: would corollary patterns emerge across mbti types as such?..
    Definitely. No doubt. I want to ponder and add more at another time. It's a big topic of mine even though I have pretty much spent my careers divided up between ed. and psych. with a smattering of parks and rec thrown in just cause it happened that way. Was good, is good, all that. Definitely have to become your own actor, your own man, your own teacher (true to yourself) sort of a thing. It's for the optimum results and for longevity and personal dev't, of course. In other words, what you do best is what goes into the soup and if you're not doing it that way it probably is to everyone's detriment. Stunted, of course. Better to find your repoirtoire and 'bag of tricks' and go for it, full on. Kids of all ages appreciate integrity, legitimacy, authenticity, blah blah .. But srsly, it is true. It shows you're bringing it all, that it matters that much, and that 'this will work' attitude of teaching, education, instruction. "It's the relationship that heals" is one of those Rogerian warm fuzzy things found in Psych/therapy students learning, but by damn it also works in Ed. and teaching. It's the 'aha' in the pudding. That's how I see it right this minit.
    All lives end. All hearts are broken. Caring is not an advantage. Mycroft Holmes

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    Tawaci ki a Gnaska ki Osito Polar's Avatar
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    Teacher's dilemma?

    Where is our teacher-hero works, now that our forum needs him most?
    "I don't have psychological problems." --Madrigal

    "When you write about shooting Polemarch in the head, that's more like a first-person view, like you're there looking down the sight of the gun." --Utisz

    David Wong, regarding Chicago
    Six centuries ago, the pre-Colombian natives who settled here named this region with a word which in their language means "the Mouth of Shadow". Later, the Iroquois who showed up and inexplicably slaughtered every man, woman and child renamed it "Seriously, Fuck that Place". When French explorer Jacques Marquette passed through the area he marked his map with a drawing of a brownish blob emerging from between the Devil's buttocks.

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    Hasta Siempre Madrigal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    I figure there would be three overall focus-areas into which a teacher might invest their time/interest (when: the teacher actually gives a damn about teaching or being a teacher):

    • Students: an interest in fomenting the growth and development of the students themselves, qua people, as distinct from their education in the subjects(s) at hand
    I think this is the most important part of teaching, and although I never actually thought of it as overlapping priorities, I guess this has always naturally been mine.

    I've only been an English teacher (7 years), for all ages but mainly adults. Learning English is usually just a means to solving a problem in their lives - being better at work, getting a new job, emigrating to a new country. I taught a lot of people whose aim it was to emigrate. These people have a fuckload of problems, otherwise they wouldn't be thinking of emigrating. They're unsatisfied with something and that something is a big deal. Sometimes it boils down to hating not just their job but their own country, being dissatisfied with their life, trying to save their marriage, trying to get married, or whatever. Since a lot of what I've done has been conversation, these topics just naturally come up. I wouldn't purport to know what's right or wrong for them, but just by asking questions, or giving them a space to talk freely, they'd get into these topics by themselves.

    I'm not even sure if this was good or bad to this day, or how much I had to do with it, but some of those people actually began to question what exactly it was they really wanted, what they were running away from and what they expected to find on the other side. One guy actually called me after his classes were over (got my number from my boss) to say he was not going to emigrate to Australia after all, he was going on a holiday and getting a divorce. I have no idea what he expected but I was just stunned. Another guy left saying he didn't actually want to go anymore (that one wasn't as brave). Actually he was so distraught on the last day that he almost got run over by a bus if I hadn't pushed him away. Last I heard, he was miserable in Canada.

    This kind of thing really disturbed me and for a while I tried to keep my fucking mouth shut when students started talking about themselves. Just go over the standard shit and stop being so... human about it. Looking back though, I value more that they had a space to reflect on their aims than the fact that I helped them achieve them.
    Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent. - Mao

  6. #6
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    I'd modify the dichotomy you're positing (trichotomy?) a bit.

    For me, it's never a question of whether to prioritize the student's development. Of course you're going to do that--that's fundamentally what teaching is.

    The question is whether you're going to look at that in some kind of holistic sense, or focus on developing something about them in particular. E.g. your subject matter. I do fall on that side of the spectrum if you define it this way--there are certain things I teach, and what I care about is generally whether my students learn those things, not so much whether they undergo personal growth in general, just because I know I have useful expertise in my field but not necessarily in other areas.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

  7. #7
    igKnight Hephaestus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    • Students: an interest in fomenting the growth and development of the students themselves, qua people, as distinct from their education in the subjects(s) at hand
    Of the three, this is the one that I think should have nothing to do with teaching, but that ironically, no teacher can avoid and still be a good teacher. What is being described here is what I would think falls under the heading of 'parenting', and is the area where parents and teachers (pre-college) are most likely to butt heads, and justifiably so. In college, it's what is most likely to cause students and parents to butt heads--but that's going to happen anyway assuming an inquisitive and testing mind.

    Objectively, a teacher shouldn't be a parental figure in their students lives. It makes teaching messier. But subjectively, it's unavoidable when you're actually teaching. Like it or not, the students will bond with you as a side effect of trusting you. And with that bond frequently comes a lot of... stuff. The things they cough up because they trust you--things they probably wouldn't tell their parents or their friends, precisely because of where you stand and the trust they implicitly extend in order to learn from you.

    It's harshest in humanities--anything that involves personal writing really. Any place where they draw on their own life experience or observation and write about their own thoughts and feelings on a subject, things are going to start spilling out that present challenges beyond merely teaching a subject.

    I think the primary thing a good teacher should do isn't try to foment personal growth, but to keep out of the way as it happens.
    --Mention of these things is so taboo, they aren't even allowed a name for the prohibition. It is just not done.

  8. #8
    Minister of Love Roger Mexico's Avatar
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    Heh, so here's a funny story:

    The scholarship system at my school is at least partially based on matching individual outside donors with individual students whom they sponsor. Recently I was instructed to collect from students on this type of scholarship the annual letter they write to their sponsors updating the latter about their academic progress.

    I teach two 10th grade classes--English and Psychology. At the beginning of the year I assigned the students in the English class (actually it's the same group--there are only 13 kids in the 10th grade here) to write me a letter introducing themselves, mainly as a diagnostic look at their writing skills. One of the items covered in this letter, though, was their plans or ambitions after high school, which got a wide variety of responses.

    Well, apparently one semester into the year three of the four kids on sponsor-based scholarships have now changed their minds and decided they want to be psychologists when they grow up. I'm told I should be proud of this, and I suppose I am. However, it's also created a sense of pressure that didn't exist before. I've gone from viewing the psych class as an introduction to an academic subject, albeit one some of them may find especially interesting, to now seeing myself as the first instructor with the responsibility of preparing them for their future careers. Shit. I mean, of course that's what you sign on for when you become a teacher in general, but it feels like a wholly different kind of responsibility to think they're absorbing what I say in that class as knowledge that will translate into skills as they try to get ahead in a profession. I don't tend to see myself that way (e.g. when teaching history class--honestly, some of the fun of teaching it is knowing most kids don't give a shit about history, so I can kind of play a bit making them ponder and debate things I regard with curiosity) so it's a bit of a mental adjustment.

    Obviously, if I teach psychology I care how much they're going to know about it when I'm done. But picturing them in major-track college courses or professional certification classes to be actual mental-health workers or whatever, recalling that time Mr. Mexico said something in their 10th grade psych class (not that this will happen, but you know, I'm biased), gives me performance anxiety I didn't have before. The three include two of the better students in their class (the third is very sympathetically motivated, but tends to struggle to earn average grades), meaning the kids where you get a strong sense they could succeed at anything they choose to invest effort into. That they've chosen one of the things I teach as a potential outlet for this ability they'll have a personal stake in is just a different thing to think about than whether they picked up some idly interesting or practical insights on human thought and behavior over the course of the time they spend with me.

    Eep. It's like I have to be a grown-up about this now. It can't just be "hey, check this out, it's kinda cool right?" anymore. Dammit.
    Quote Originally Posted by Ptah View Post
    No history, no exposition, no anecdote or argument changes the invariant: we are all human beings, and some humans are idiots.

  9. #9
    Scobblelotcher Sistamatic's Avatar
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    I am currently a teacher. Professor really, but at the Community College level, which is different. I am still publishing on my own, but not at a high rate, and mostly just for grins. I picked up the job as a temporary, part-time thing right after I moved here while I was looking for something else. Funny thing happened...and I really did not expect it...I'm very good at it. In spite of my difficulty level, I have students lining up trying to get into my classes because I have a reputation for being able to explain difficult and confusing things so that they can be understood by people who are underprepared. (That's educationese for went to a shitty public school) A fellow teacher tried to have my student success data removed from consideration on textbook selection because, and I quote, "...but she could teach Biology from a phonebook." I know I'm bragging, but the point is, I'm good at this. I walk out of a classroom feeling like a rock-star.

    And the reason I'm able to do this is because I only teach 4 or 5 classes per semester, ranging between 35 and 50 students each, and I insist on remaining on contract rather than as a full time hire. They have begged and pleaded for me to take a full time position, but I won't, and here is why:

    1. The full time professors all hate their lives. They have no time for living, working out, or engaging their own brains during the semester. I have watched one full timer after another come in bright eyed and full of hope and turn into a cynical, jaded, hateful health disasters.
    2. Even if they teach night classes, they are required to sign something saying they will not do anything else that earns money during business hours.
    3. They are required to serve on no fewer than 3 committees that aren't related to their teaching jobs. Ex: Committee in charge of catering the Chancellor's luncheons. Serving on 3 will earn you a performance review of C. 5 gets you a B. More gets you an A. Committees make me insane.
    4. They have to attend lots and lots of meetings. Since I am an adjunct, I get an emailed summary of the meeting plan and only have to show up if it is something that concerns me that I feel like I need to give input on.
    5. Instead of getting 5 different preps, and twice as many contact hours as a person could be expected to teach well, I usually get one or two preps, and a manageable course load that allows me to give individualized feedback to students who have never had that before. As an adjunct, I get to choose from the leftover pile instead of just teaching whatever they tell me to. I basically get my pick of the night classes. I love night classes. I get to stay up all night every night and still be a grown up.
    6. I have other things going on. I cannot have a job that requires more than the number of hours I am awake in order to perform at the level I hold myself to. And that is the position the other instructors find themselves in. It isn't that I'm a better teacher, I'm just in a better position to do the job.

    The reason I am so good at teaching is that I have so many interesting life stories to tell that relate to the material. It's biology for god's sake. The study of life. How can you teach about life if you don't have one?

    Maybe I should move on and try to make more money, but the thought of not being a teacher anymore makes me unbelievably sad. I have turned so many people on to science. And this is Louisiana. Most of my students came from either rural backwoods or New Orleans, and they are here to try to get into the University via transfer since they can't cut it via test scores. Many of them were taught creation in public school. A good teacher ... someone who can show them how simple life is, who can demystify DNA and evolution, who can really make them believe in themselves, and who can really enthuse them about crossing over from having to just trust what people tell you to being educated enough to be the one telling other people what to trust. I'm not just a teacher, I'm a god-damned warrior against ignorance in a third world state. I love to teach. I fucking loathe every ounce of the bureaucracy I have to deal with, and the annual budget cuts from the state, and the overstuffed classrooms...I have kids sitting on floors sometimes, and the departmentalized exams, and the way the administrators in our school care more about covering their own asses than they do about the students, and a million other things, but I get emails from former students all the time telling me how I turned it around for them. I've got one studying physics at MIT who says he couldn't have even imagined being a scientist if it wasn't for me. I've got one who bombed her first exam and paper and almost quit in tears, but I begged her to stay and talk to me and I told her how to study, and how to get help on her writing skills, and she did every single thing I told her and aced everything from that point forward...highest grade in the class on everything. Just got an email from her. She got accepted into med school at UAB...and she is the first person in her whole family to even finish high school.

    Shit, I could go on forever. I'm passionate about my job. You've gotten me started. I could type stories til my fingers fell off. I love to teach. I hate the bulshit. As long as I can manage to hold onto this little niche where I've found a way to teach and minimize the soul crushing bulshit, that's what I'm going to do.

  10. #10
    Amen P-O's Avatar
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    I teach first year college level physics lab to mostly engineers right now. I see it a bit differently than your list of 3 priorities. IMO My primary function as an instructor is to help kindle whatever passion for physics exists in these students. I view inspiration towards learning physics as being more valuable than any actual subject matter I can teach. I'm not sure where that would fall on your list of priorities.
    That said, I don't really know how to do that very well. So, I guess my primary focus is towards learning the art of "teaching" as defined by me. I've been experimenting with a few methods, but it's still a work in progress.
    Whenever I prepare for a lecture I try to look at the phenomena in question in a new light and try to develop conceptual justifications for the equations the students are learning (Often the standard proof of the equation requires more advanced mathematics than the students have been exposed to). I think presenting the subject in novel ways helps toward keeping both me and the students interested.

    I really take very little interest in growing the students as people except as far as trying to inculcate in them a sense of personal responsibility for their own education.
    Right now I'm very focused on how to manipulate them into wanting to learn on their own.
    Violence is never the right answer, unless used against heathens and monsters.

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