The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Teachers Need to be Taught to Teach

4 min read

Guest Columnist

As time rolls on, we inevitably come to the period when our classes start again. As we begin to adapt to the daily grind, I can’t help but notice some stark differences in teaching styles. Most importantly, it’s blatant how unaware a few well-intentioned professors are of the basics of a solid upper-level education. So as a favor to these teachers, and in turn for their students, I have taken the time to write a general guideline in hopes of ensuring a fruitful education and career for all involved.

The first step of any good class is teaching your students how to learn. This is what differentiates college from the mere hands-on-experience they would be getting in the real world. So with no further delay, here is the general script as best I can describe it:
Arrive to the first day of class late, confidently, when all the class is seated. With dignified composure, look over the class gravely and ponder. Then, with great profundity, emphasizing each word, ask, “What is [discipline name here]?” There should be a good 20 second silence as you look around, letting the question sink in. Then slowly pace and repeat the question, raising your eyebrows. Try to match your entire demeanor to Jack McCoy from Law & Order.

If any student does raise a hand, call on him or her, listen to the response, and then say, “No.” Pretty soon, nobody else will have an answer, proving they recognize your legitimacy. When two minutes of silence have elapsed, loudly reveal the definition which you have crafted, optionally writing it on the board. Expect all students to write it down.

You can’t use just any definition though. There’s a reason you just don’t pull one from the dictionary; you must craft a good definition. All definitions which you provide in your class, and there should be many, should meet some basic criteria. For one, it should include as many qualifications as possible (e.g. “An interrelationship between two or more objects” is far superior to “A relationship.”).

Also, a good definition should be very general, the more things it includes the more broadly it can be applied, so a good definition of “business” for example might be, “The systematic study or application of theories or principles of the interexchange of desired information or things in order to sustain a stated or unstated goal-objective.” Notice how, by this definition, studying a plant taking nutrients from the ground might be business, because perhaps a plant is taking nutrients for the goal-objective of growth. The point is it’s unclear. So unlike a dictionary definition, so you can continue to declare whatever comes to mind about business freely without being constrained by what you said earlier.     You’ll find that this comes in especially handy when writing exam questions.

The benefits of giving this “mental foundation” cannot be overstated. Even though no immediate consequences of doing so may be apparent, you should hold on faith that it will revolutionize the students’ comprehension of the subject. If any of the headstrong students don’t show up for your performance you should immediately drop them so the more obedient students can have a place.

Figurative language is another major tool you have at your disposal. I advise using this as much as possible; don’t worry so much about being precise, just try painting a general picture in the student’s mind, per se. Figurative language helps you speak in broader terms (and broader is necessarily more profound) and again prevents you from getting pinned down to what you’ve said previously. In other words, it lets you brush over a greater landscape without getting caught up in the nooks and crannies.

This brings me to one of the most important skills for any academic profession: the ability to turn obvious, dull facts into unintuitive, complicated new facts. This is the basis for much of education. Take for example the worthless phrase, “Sometimes people mishear each other.” I observed in my communications class how easily this boring statement could be made into a new fact like, “In communication, multiple types of interference happen on various channels which can cause the recipient to lose the message.” Now you’ve got some information which is worth the thousand plus dollars the class is costing the student. By repeating this process of renaming, reclassifying, and dividing into phases, you can generate an entire semester’s worth of material in the fashion many famous academics have before without the burden of having to do an ounce of investigation yourself.

Or, to be even more efficient, you can teach the class from a book that presents a bunch of semi-philosophical theories that avoid any nitty-gritty testable predictions.

By synthesizing all of these tools I have provided, I hope the remaining professors who unthinkingly delve right into material can take a step back and look at the larger picture. This new focus in your class will astound and impress your students, leaving them completely unsure of whether or not they understand the material, but completely certain that you are an important and intelligent person.

Alex Rohde is a sophomore.