Building Blogs of Science

On the perils of becoming a dinosaur

Posted in Science, Science and Society by kubke on April 5, 2010
[Crossposted from Talking Teaching]

As a student I always complained about the ‘dinosaur teachers’: those that had lost touch with the students and with the teaching material. Those whose attitude seemed to scream: ‘I cannot be bothered any more’.

Patricia Cranton says, in the context of why someone teaches:

“Another person may have defined himself as a teacher through having a vision of the role of teaching in society but may now, after many disillusioning years of practice, maintain his perspective of himself as a teacher because it is a social expectation or obligation from which he feels he cannot escape. “

And that seems to sum up what a dinosaur teacher is. Teaching is neither foreign nor new to me, I have been teaching one way or another since 1982, and most of the women in my family were teachers of one sort or another.Yet I am not a teacher. I never received any formal training in teaching, and whatever I learned to do or to avoid, I did through trial and error. I am a scientist. I know how to do science. I received formal training, and though I (somehow) know how to navigate that world, it does not instantly qualify me as a good science teacher.

So after all these years, it was time for me to ask: have I become a dinosaur teacher? And if I have, can I do soemething about it?

I am now facing the challenge of replacing Colin Quilter in his teaching at the Medical School. These are not small shoes to fill, and it is a huge challenge. First, I am going back to teaching first and second year, which I have not done in a long time and which I consider much more difficult to do than higher level courses. It is not only the language but the size of the class. How do you engage with over a thousand students, especially when some are in an overflow room, which I cannot see? Colin was, to say the least, beloved by his students. If you do not believe me you can become a fan of a page called ‘Shrine to Colin Quilter’ on Facebook, or read his feature profile in Ako Aotearoa Academy of Tertiary Teaching Excellence. And facing a class knowing that the students expect a ‘Colin’ experience can be nothing less than terrifying.

But since I face fear as a scientist, I have decided to take a degree in education. For the next two years, I will become a student in tertiary education: I will sit in class, I will do homework and assignments, I will be assessed while I try to learn how to become a better teacher. I am not sure what to expect from the programme, but one thing is for certain: I will be in my student’s shoes again, shoes I vacated many years ago. And the programme, one way or another will make me sit down and think about issues around teaching in a more formal way. And that cannot be a bad thing.

Patricia Cranton (2001) Becoming an Authentic Teacher in Higher Education. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, Florida.