Friday, March 11, 2016

Teachers in the Clouds

by Ron Samul 
"So what’s better? A teacher who waits in the wings till students need them, or one who “softly and silently vanishes away” when they are no longer needed? Or, rather, which is better when?" -- Sarah Honeycurch

In higher education, I've been actively trying to reposition myself self in terms of my role as the instructor in the class. I don't think lecturing and traditional content delivery are viable. When I saw this questioned posted on NoMadWarMachine website, and I connected immediately with some of the students I worked with last spring and into the fall.

It is inherent in my teaching style to foster collaboration with student writing and research. I want them to be good researchers, better writers, better thinkers -- I also think that I have to step aside and let them write and be effective in their practice. It might take some students a few tries to format, argue, and research their work, but that practice is good work for students.  Teaching overview skills to the entire class and then working with students one-to- one is important to fostering an individualized yet pedagogical approach to their writing. And there I am, "a teacher who is in the wings till students need them." While I know they are writing their research papers, I am waiting to assist, collaborate, and redirect students to resources, motivation, and other elements of the writing process. In Star Wars terms, this is Yoda in the swamp teaching his pupil the ways of the Force.
Yoda to the left. 

In recalibrating my purpose and interaction with students, it is clear that sometimes (with a few students) it is more important to disappear and be the whispering voice. In many ways we are in a contract with the student. They are taking the course and we have an obligations to instruct in the subject area. But how and why we do that is constantly transforming. More and more students come to me asking -"when am I really going to use this in my career." In some cases, they have a point - but not everything we learn we use in our jobs. That is where the transference of skills and ideas needs to be fostered. And perhaps, like Yoda, we need to show how important some of the transferability of their skills are across many jobs and skills they will be using. You will need to be proficient at formatting documents, finding effective articles and research, and they will have to communicate clearly. Students want individualized education and I want them to experience their educational path as an individual. But I also want them to be well versed in taking skills out of the classroom and turning them into assets in the real world.

The beauty of our job is that we will disappear, but the hope is to have an echo caught in the ears of the students - a voice that says you need to write, think, and express yourself. It is everywhere - and that is why you don't think you need them. 

Ron Samul is a writer and educator. For more information or to contact him, go to 

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