Just a Riff (Teaching Your Elites)

I was at a really interesting seminar the other day which was largely about writing and the cinema. Was too short. But some of the incidental conversation was troubling. The visitor was pointing out how many of the undergraduates (as opposed to the postgraduates) struggle to get what is being discussed, or why it matters. There were supportive nods of heads and comments about how one or two would get it, the intent being that these are the ones who matter. This is self serving romantic nonsense that is the university myth we all hold dear. Imagine if primary and secondary school teachers had this understanding of their role and value as educators, and if your child wasn’t one of those one or two. The problem I have with this is that I was once one of those students. I relished the university experience, but the university didn’t teach me how to relish it, it didn’t teach me how to be ‘theoretical’, I came primed and already ready. Most of my peers, as with most of my students, don’t get ‘theory’ in the way we academics do, but we teach it as if they should and those that do get HDs and those that don’t get confused. When do we stop and wonder how to teach to the other 22 in the room? Surely that is what constitutes good teaching? All of us can wheel out our HD students as evidence of our teaching brilliance, except these students will almost certainly already be academically inclined and this will have had little, if anything, to do with us. This is another version of the ‘little academics‘ model, a Lacanian mirror phase moment where we misjudge the reflection of ourselves in these students as an imprimatur of our own ability.

One thought on “Just a Riff (Teaching Your Elites)

  1. John

    Very interesting post, Adrian. I’m one of your students from last century, and these days a teacher myself while studying for my masters in education. While I “get” educational theory, but find much of it to be akin to an Ouroboros and of little use in the real world, so I’m forced to try to extract little nuggets that might actually be useful in my pedagogy from a mass mixture of potentially interesting, but impractical and unrelated dross.

    While I could well achieve higher marks if I cared more, I’m quite happy with balancing passes and credits with my full-time career, since I know that once completed, the “bit of paper” is not much more than CV padding. It’s interesting to see comments from other students who are not yet teaching who are still stressing about their marks. I was like that once, while doing my pre-service training. Imagine how I felt when it turned out that none of the marks (or stress about them) mattered an iota when compared to competence and a good interview!

    The lecturers also seem to share this great concern for academic marks, and keep trotting out “higher level” and the importance of “higher theory” in the course while being seemingly impervious to teaching teachers anything much useful for teaching.

    The interesting thing is that while my Masters is highly theoretical and mostly a waste of my time (I see it as an annoying and painful investment, and at this point have mostly given up on learning anything practical or useful), I’ve recently spoken to other teachers doing their masters at a different university and they’ve gushed about how practical and useful their course has been!

    Am I one “of you” or one of “the 22”? I suppose my mindset places me in the middle. If I’m going to accept money and the responsibility to be an educator, I need to meet them all halfway. At the very least,