August 15th, 2008

It’s Hard to Part with the Tried and True


I’m busy doing reading for the October issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter, sitting lakeside at our summer place in upstate New York. I got three mosquito bites while reading an article by Jerry Farber on presence. Yes, I was so enamored with the article I never felt the bites! I’ll summarize in the newsletter what he means by presence and how it so very often escapes teachers. But here’s another insight—one I felt like underlining twice!

Farber introduces it by observing how pulled and pressured faculty feel, what with service obligations, pressure to publish, and too many classes to teach. They make us “want teaching to be something that we can acquire and lock up. On any given day of any given course we would like to be able to pull something out of the file drawer, walk into class, and run it. No sweat, no hassle. We want to own our teaching as though it were so much real estate. . . .But the act of teaching is nothing we can lock up, nothing we can hold on to, nothing we can simply pull off the shelf and run. The very next time I walk into class, I will be, once again, somewhere I’ve never been.” (p. 223)

I think this explains why it’s so hard to part with what’s tried and true, what we’ve done so many times before, what we can do almost without thinking. It’s hard to let go of something we know so well, even if that level of familiarity means what we do lacks freshness, authenticity, and that sense of intellectual edginess.

Reference: Farber, J. (2008). Teaching and presence. Pedagogy, 8 (2), 215-225.

—Maryellen Weimer