This morning around 6 I woke up and in that wonderful half-sleep just before I get up and feel the pain in my back wrenching me back to reality I thought about how many times I started the college term in the Fall of every year for the past 36 years with the same lecture. It’s about how I teach sociology and how my students learn and don’t learn. I teach sociology, but right now I want to focus on the teaching part of what I do and not the sociology part. I’ve also taught 1st year (freshman) French, Canadian HIstory, Anthropology and Sociology, but over the last 25 years or so, pretty much exclusively Sociology. So I know that my teaching style is consistent across various subjects. I teach using humour (at least I think I’m funny at least some of the time) and a highly critical approach to things. After teaching for so long I know that some of my students, at least, appreciate my teaching style. Funny thing is, I don’t think I can teach people how to teach like I do. It’s not a teachable skill. It’s a skill that comes from a confluence of life happenings, genetics, upbringing and experience. To know when to chide a student or make a joke or criticize the textbook is something I’ve learned over the years. Most of the time, it works. I don’t use notes when I teach. Teaching for me is a dialogue between me, the text writers and my students. I don’t think I could learn that at teacher’s college. It depends on my personality as much as my knowledge. It helps that I love what I do, that I have a deep connection to what I know and study and that I have respect for my students and their struggles. Every year, with a new set of fresh students, I tell them that every one of them has the intelligence to make it through my course and do well.
But, I tell them, there are many reasons they might not do well. Personal troubles are at the top of the list. Disputes with family, friends and/or lovers can really sap energy and impair concentration. Struggles with beliefs, with what’s right or wrong, good and bad although sometimes essential for learning can leave one confused and disoriented just at a time when there is a real need for concentrated activity in studying and listening in class. Overwhelming concern with what others’ expectations are, whether articulated or not, push away the need to work on course material. Worry about work, finances, children, husbands, wives, parents and health all contribute to poor academic performance. This is fodder for another blog post in the near future, but for now, I just want to convey the reality that success in school is not just a result of hard work, nor is it the achievement of one person, the student. Success in school and university is the result of the efforts of many individuals and institutions. The sad reality is that we don’t, as a society, care much who succeeds and who ‘fails’ at school. We need people to do both. It’s somewhat of a contradiction that in a society so focussed in individuality and individualism we cannot care for the single person. No wonder people feel abandoned, frightened and angry. We just don’t give a shit about them.
That’s what I tell my students.