TITLE: Learn Humility By Teaching AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 24, 2016 10:33 AM DESC: ----- BODY: In The Books in My Life, Henry Miller writes about discussing books with an inquisitive friend:
I remember this short period vividly because it was an exercise in humility and self-control on my part. The desire to be absolutely truthful with my friend caused me to realize how very little I knew, how very little I could reveal, though he always maintained that I was a guide and mentor to him. In the brief, the result of those communions was that I began to doubt all that I had blithely taken for granted. The more I endeavored to explain my point of view, the more I floundered. He may have thought I acquitted myself well, but not I. Often, on parting from him, I would continue the inner debate interminably.
I am guessing that most anyone who teaches knows the feeling Miller describes. I feel it all the time. I'm feeling it again this semester while teaching my Programming Languages and Paradigms course. We're learning Racket as a way to learn to talk about programming languages, and also as a vehicle for learning functional programming. One of my goals this semester is to be more honest. Whenever I find a claim in my lecture notes that sounds like dogma that I'm asking students to accept on faith, I'm trying to explain in a way that connects to their experience. Whenever students ask a question about why we do something in a particular way, I'm trying to help them really to see how the new way is an improvement over what they are used to. If I can't, I admit that it's convention and resolve not to be dogmatic about it with them. This is a challenge for me. I am prone to dogma, and having programmed functionally in Scheme for a long time, so much of what my students experience learning Racket is deeply compiled in my brain. Why do we do that? I've forgotten, if I ever knew. I may have a vague memory that, when I don't do it that way, chaos ensues. Trust me! Unfortunately, that is not a convincing way to teach. Trying to give better answers and more constructive explanations gives rise to the sort of floundering that Miller talks about. After class, the inner debate continues as I try to figure out what I know and why, so that I can do better. Some natural teachers may find this easy, but for me, learning to answer questions in a way that really helps students has been a decades-long lesson in humility. -----