Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Good Teachers

I'm taking a class.  

I like taking classes.  I like learning new stuff and reading books I'd never pick up on my own.  I like the fact of the other students, especially now that I'm taking classes for fun and not for credit.  Everyone in the room has chosen to be there.  There's no pressure yet everyone always seems to have done the reading.  And, as my last professor sighed happily, no one in the room is texting.  

Decades ago, TBG and I took a film class taught by Roger Ebert.  We sat on uncomfortable folding chairs in a charmless auditorium and watched in wonder as our study of the westerns of John Ford and Howard Hawks became an examination of the career of John Wayne.  Even Ebert was amazed.  But since he was a fabulous teacher, as the conversations and questions focused more and more on the star's commanding, somehow huge but still understated presence, he was able to go with the flow.  It was like being in Baskin Robbins at the end of the night as the server gives you an extra scoop to finish off the barrel.  A bonus post, if you will.  Not only were we watching as bad guys galloped from right to left and good guys from left to right (watch an old oater and see for yourself), scrutinizing depth of field and admiring the long shot, but we also were seeing the creation of a screen icon.  And Ebert was discovering it along with us.  He was confident in his knowledge, and relaxed enough to be comfortable examining it from another perspective.

I was thinking about this as I sat in class this morning.  The room is windowed but shaded from the sun, and the greenery surrounding it is lush but not brushing noisily up against the walls.  The chairs are padded and have arms and there are 5 rows and several aisles so no one feels claustrophobic.  I'm at the younger end of the age range, and I enjoyed the fact that most of the women in the room did not color their hair; gray comes in a variety of hues.  There was a lovely buzz when I arrived, 15 minutes early, to an almost full room.  This guy has taught before, and there are groupies.  

For the life of me, I don't know why.  

The course covers four areas; he is an expert in only one of them.  I know this because he told us.  More than once.  Often, in fact.  He is learned in the umbrella topic, but not in all of the specifics.  Perhaps he thought it was endearing, this acknowledgment of foibles.  I did not find it so.

I learned much about his frustrations with Power Point presentations: it's hard to skip over slides, for example.  There were others, but he never hit on my pet peeve with those things: there's no reason to read them aloud.  The information is up there.  Assume that your audience is not visually impaired and comment on the facts we're taking in as you are talking to us.  Trust me, your students can read and listen at the same time.  I promise.  We live in the 21st century; we are used to multi-tasking.  Alas, he did not hear my silent pleadings.

I knew there would be a lot of material, because he spent a few minutes telling us about having prepared 70 slides when 50 probably would have been enough and his concomitant fear of running out of things to say.  That's never a good sign.  Volumes have been written on this topic and he was afraid that he couldn't fill three hours?  Of course, this was one of the areas in which he is not an expert,  so perhaps it was a valid fear.  It just didn't make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

He had a point or two, and he made them with facts and figures and the now obligatory video segment.  College students these days seem to need their information fed to them on film; every course I've taken over the last 5 years has had a video component.  This one was interesting, though probably 3 times as long as it needed to be to make the point.   

I took notes, and I've re-read them and they are surprisingly interesting.  There was information there and I recorded it and now I remember it and I guess I learned something after all.  That's a good thing.  

But the class was still a disappointment.

Good teachers .....  they are some of my favorite people on the planet.  I start every class with the hope that I'll find another one.  Sometimes, I'm disappointed.

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