The Wizard of Oz: A Metaphor for Teaching Excellence

When reflecting on my experiences as a college professor, several themes from The Wizard of Oz often surface. This well-known story provides a metaphorical view of behaviors that I strive to achieve in my ongoing work with students. In the familiar foursome’s journey to the Emerald City, I see characteristics necessary for teaching excellence—the need to improve, fine-tune and revamp as we travel with students through courses and curricula. Like Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, successful teachers must have courage, passion and brains.

Courage is needed to

  • say “I don’t know” to a student’s question, followed by “but I’ll find out”;
  • maintain one’s academic standards despite students’ objections;
  • trust one’s “gut” feelings and intuitive perceptions involving students;
  • try new teaching strategies and obtain feedback to assess their effectiveness;
  • disagree with colleagues on curricula/program development issues;
  • approach student evaluations of teaching performance with humbleness rather than vulnerability; and
  • avoid burnout and the temptation to become cynical, by maintaining commitment to one’s vocation.

Passion is needed to

  • care for yourself (physically, mentally and spiritually) in order to care for students;
  • put forth the effort to know each student’s name and special learning needs;
  • provide prompt feedback for student performance along with critical encouragement;
  • recommend personal counseling to a student overwhelmed by life’s many stressors;
  • share successes/failures with colleagues and learn from their stories as well;
  • instill a sense of hope for academically challenged students; and
  • be available to students other than “by appointment” or to discuss grades.

Brains are needed to

  • seek out a teaching mentor early in one’s career and to become one later;
  • recognize that most instructors feel like imposters from time to time;
  • balance one’s academic life with a meaningful life off campus;
  • focus on diversity in students’ learning styles rather than on students’ intellect/personalities;
  • read or seek information about teaching at every opportunity;
  • laugh, have fun and enjoy students; and
  • learn from past mistakes when developing and implementing future courses.

Of the foursome, I think Dorothy has those character attributes most admirable in professors. She’s adventuresome, keeps an open mind, perseveres even in difficult circumstances and networks with great aplomb. Her sense of hope helps others in troubled times. Perhaps most intriguing, she has power, albeit unknown to her until the end of the tale.

College professors have power not unlike Dorothy’s—although we don’t always recognize or use our abilities to establish conditions and opportunities for students to learn, to help facilitate students’ ability to think, or to instill confidence and pride in students where none previously existed.

I don’t think it matters if you teach in a lecture hall, a seminar room, a lab, a practicum setting or an electronic classroom. All teachers can apply lessons from The Wizard of Oz to classroom practice. Think about it as you journey down the yellow brick road in pursuit of teaching excellence. Do you see it as being over the rainbow or in your own backyard?