Giving Up Teaching…

No, I am not announcing retirement. That is what we call an “attention-getting headline.”  Before you charge me with misrepresentation, understand that I’ve actually been “giving up teaching” for quite a few years now.

Ho Hum, we're being taught.

In case you haven’t noticed, I have a new theme and logo: “Love to Learn.” I convinced myself to follow this course because I do love to learn and, more importantly, I believe learning should be as much fun as possible. When it’s not fun it should at least be rewarding.

A recent article in Harvard Review, Twilight of the Lecture, by Eric Mazur was very affirming. Mazur says he is “more interested in learning than teaching” and demonstrates with research that moving the focus away from the lectern to the “physical and imaginative activity of each student” is the key to improved learning. In practical terms,

The active-learning approach challenges lecturers to re-evaluate what they can accomplish during class that offers the greatest value for students. Mazur cites a quip to the effect that lectures are a way of transferring the instructor’s lecture notes to students’ notebooks without passing through the brains of either.

For anyone who teaches, this article is a “must-read.” I’ve witnessed this first hand when working with second graders through adult learners. Many second grade readers will stumble over a word and look at me with inquisitive eyes. My instincts are often to give them the answer, but I know that’s not very engaging. So we might “sound it out,” break it down, or consider the context. Sometimes we find a dictionary and look it up. They don’t always like it because it means work. But I think it also means learning.

Can’t you just tell me the answer?

Adults like this even less. Real estate pre-licensing courses require testing and passing grades. I introduce every course with this observation, requiring students to write it down in the beginning of their notebook:

If you study to remember you will forget. If you study to understand you will remember.

That sort of process doesn’t usually work very well when I’m lecturing–students are writing down and hoping they can remember what I say. The harsh reality is that I’m doing all the work and hoping they are “with me.” It seems a bit odd that we are both hoping it will work. Hope is a wonderful thing, but effort tends to get more results.

Interactive learning is more work for the teacher and the student. It’s also not traditional, especially with adults. Teachers/lecturers like maintaining control of their classrooms. What we need to understand is that interactive learning does not translate to giving up control of the classroom–it simply requires a different set of skills and a higher level of engagement on the part of all involved. The ultimate classroom management takes place when we engage the learners’ mind as well as their pencils. Mazur says, “Active learners take new information and apply it, rather than just making note of it.”

No, I’m not retiring… and I’m actually not really giving up teaching. But I’m constantly doing it differently because I think teaching is really about learning.



Filed under Learning, Personal Growth, Teaching

2 responses to “Giving Up Teaching…

  1. Caroline Brost

    Walter, Have you ever had a chance to visit a Montessori school? A well-run Montessori classroom is a great example of that other, “guide on the side,” type of classroom management. I find that neat things happen when I’m in “Montessori mode” even in other classroom situations–turning questions back to the group to let them wrestle with them rather than just answering them myself, for example. As you say, students are more likely to remember what they’ve figured out for themselves. It is our job to give them the tools and encouragement to do so.

    • Walter Boomsma

      Thanks for the comment, Caroline. I’ve not spent time in a Montessori school… that probably should go on my list! I would say, however, public schools seem to have moved a good distance in this direction. You’re also right–it works in many venues. I had an incident with a young girl the other day who reported she was having “serious issues” with a classmate. We worked on a short list of options for ways to address it and she selected the one that made the most sense to her. (And it wasn’t an option that transferred the problem to an adult. LOL) I should probably note that I don’t believe that I’m relieved or responsibilty and to that end, part of the plan was she would report reguarly. There’s a lot to like about it–it empowers the kids and it’s easier for the adult!

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