teaching

Stop selling it!

This spring, I took a professional development course to become a Certified Program Planner. The course was geared towards people organizing and running continuing education programs, but it resonated with me on many octaves, from cringing when the instructor would call participants “clients” to explaining how to retain a rolodex of available instructors, ready to teach a course at the ring of phone or the chink of an incoming email, even as late as two days before the course was slated to start. There is one thing that stayed with me, and which I’m trying to be mindful of: in adult education, motivation for learning comes from the student.

OK, you can roll your eyes now, if you so wish. Laugh at me for being ignorant or naive or gullible. It might be a great illustration of what Erin was saying on Monday about how “No part of my formal training as a literary scholar taught me how to write lectures, or to teach for that matter.” In fact, I did have a 1-week training, which was quite effective at equipping me with the basics of teaching first-year English classes, but no one-week, no matter how well thought-out or hands-on can go into the intricacies and philosophies and context and theories of adult education. So that little nugget about motivation has been haunting me for a few reasons.

One, because “performing the service function” as teaching first-year English was known at my university, means the 3 or 6 credits of the 100-level English courses are compulsory for all the students. And, man, do they ever let us know how forced they feel. How obligated, their very life drained out by the act of stepping into the English classroom. How blasé this first-year sentence undeservedly placed upon their otherwise august heads. So what did I do? Worked hard at showing student just how awesome English can be, just how cool it is to critically think through all the stuff you encounter in life, from that newest despicably sexist/racist/homophobic song on all the charts and on everyone’s lips to the more sedate “measure out my life in coffee spoons.” I sold English like my life depended on it. 

Two, because, let’s face it, first-year–more specifically first-semester–postsecondary students are not quite “adult learners,” yet. In fact, a huge amount of time and energy is spent in my class showing what that is, and how it entails taking responsibility for your own learning, while also periodically pointing them to all the support services that are there to ensure they can thrive at this higher education game. There’s a big shift from fall courses to winter courses, with an accompanying decrease in that emotional labour, too.

This new academic year, I’m trying to live more by the edict that even first-semester students are and should act more like adult learners. I’m selling less, if at all. I cannot help my enthusiasm at teaching critical thinking, reading, literature, etc.–indeed, enthusiasm is what still keeps me going in the classroom–but I’ve stopped selling, because participants in my classes are not my clients. Motivation comes from the adult learner. That’s my new mantra

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