Gardner Campbell has just written a real corker… I’m at a loss to add much of value, other than to reproduce a couple passages (leaving out the incidents that provoked them) and a suggestion that you read the thing yourself:
I don’t mean the routine stuff. The usual kerfuffles and complaints are tired and predictable -– the papers to grade, the disengaged yawners and watch-checkers, and worst of all, the days when I feel empty and flat and uninspired, indeed a bear of very little brain and no fresh ideas to catalyze the students into following the traces of their own engagement. No, I mean those days when the magic happens. When the big bell rings and a sudden, wild surmise seizes half the class, and me, with an idea or insight or epiphany that leaves us breathless. I assure you I do not exaggerate. Nor do I boast: I have some part to play in all this, but my experience is that great classes achieve greatness because of the students. When they come off the blocks from the first challenging or puzzling thing I say, when they fill the discussion forums with a burning intensity, passionate curiosity, and even a committed playfulness (Lewis’s phrase “solemn romp” comes to mind), when they work and work and work at an idea until they have not only understood it but extended it and taught me things I never suspected, then that’s a great class.
… If I can see the cognition happening, I can have a much more powerful and sophisticated understanding of what I can contribute as an advanced learner (i.e., as a teacher). If I were a music teacher, or a golf pro, I could watch the fingering, or the swing, and say “ah, I see that you’re doing this, or that, or forgetting this, or that.” But as a professor, I have a hard time seeing the fingering or the swing. Instead, I see bits of cognition happening in class, and some more-or-less ossified traces of cognition in papers. Often, I see the cognition happening in discussion forums, and those moments are crucial to me. But to see an essay — for that’s what it was -– that really was an essay -– an attempt -– was particularly valuable to me as I consider the shape and needs of this learner’s quest. And the serendipity of it all made it feel more authentic, more like what happens when the mind begins to understand the scope of the question, the contours of the problem space. Those beginnings are rarely the result of connecting dots. They’re more in the way of a wild surmise.
Can these moments be scaled? Can they be assessed? I am haunted by these questions. All I know is that both these moments, and the others like them that make teaching such an addictive profession, are at the heart of what I call education. Real school. Any answers or theories of education that don’t at some level speak to this heart will not satisfy me.
Readiness is all.
Man, if only I could write like that…