May 26th, 2009

Putting it on the Line


Ron Berk has a nice “Tribute to Teaching” in the most recent issue of College Teaching. He uses the term “professosaurus” to describe senior faculty—I think he qualifies having recently retired after 37 years of teaching, most of it at Johns Hopkins University.

He wants to find a metaphor that captures what makes teaching more a calling and less a job. He settles on a line that is both literal and figurative—from the Broadway musical A Chorus Line. Auditioning dancers had to step up to a white, taped line on the stage from which they performed.

“Do professors put it on the line?” Berks thinks they do. “A professor bares his or her mind, body, heart, and soul before the students in every class.” (p. 127) Professors show their minds—what they know, their skills, and abilities. They are a physical presence in class—creating an image that conveys many important messages. Professors let students see their hearts—their personalities, professionalism, and passions. And professors also reveal something of their souls—what they believe in, care about, and live for.

“Those four elements of your being are laid out before your students to see, class after class; just like a dancer, performance after performance. That’s what you are putting on the line. Although many of us concentrate only on the “mind” we are having an impact on our students in so many other ways that we may not aware of. … It’s possible that how we teach has a more profound effect on our students than what we teach.” (p. 127)

Reference: Berk, R. A. (2009). A tribute to teaching: Putting it on the line. College Teaching, 57 (2), 126-127.