I started reading this chapter by taking notes. Within minutes, I found myself putting my pen away and just enjoying the textbook. The author has captured the reality of teaching. It is not a concrete science and there is no black and white. Each class, each session, each hour is so different from the rest. The same content taught in one class may or may not be effective for another group. Teaching is sometimes about muddling our way through our class and handling surprises as they arise.
So what is one to do? How do we prepare for these chaotic and challenging situations? Can we prepare? I agree with the author that surprises are just part of our teaching experience. How we deal with them makes us learn and grow as instructors. How we interpret the outcome and make internal changes affects us in the future. We need to accept ourselves for who we are, embrace our style, work on our weaknesses (as we perceive them) and understand that we will never be able to please all the people all the time. This is just the reality that we need to understand and appreciate. With respect to problem solving and dilemmas, we have to accept that we may or may not be able to resolve them all.
With respect to experience, I really liked the author’s thoughts. Experience itself does not mean that one has reflected, understood, nor critically analyzed their teaching. Experience can be distorted, self-fulfilling, unexamined, and constraining in many ways. I love the author’s explanation that experience happens but they are related to meaning that we grant them; the meaning is constructed by us to explain how we understand the event. This understanding is from our point of view and affected by all factors that make us who we are and where we are in life. Through experience, we can learn a lesson but this learning is affected by our interpretation of the lesson. Experience may or may not be enriching such as cases of stereotyping on a regular basis. Finally, experience can be narrowing and constraining and lead us to forming skewed results and opinions.
Finally, I really liked the author’s advice about teachers needing to trust their own inner voice, instincts, intuitions, and insight. At a recent lecture, I had a confrontational student who continually asked stumbling questions. He was determined to “throw me off”. I was amazed at how I was able to effectively respond and control the pace of the class at the same time. I was respectful to him and did not allow him to change the tone of the entire session. At the end of the class, two of my co-instructors came up to me and told me how amazed they were that I didn’t even blink with respect to the tough questions. They were impressed. I have to admit, that I did blink inside but kept my cool on the outside and kept focus on delivery and session objectives. These skills are not ones we can be taught. They are ones we develop over time, practice and personal/professional growth.
Brookfield, S. D. (2000). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.