Thoughts of an Old Man

I want to say something about teaching and learning.  I’m a retired “old school” teacher.  That description has both negative and positive connotations.  If it means one who is tied to the textbook, who assigns homework from the textbook, who uses the class time as recitation time for answers derived from the textbook’s suggested “questions for discussion,” if it means one who avoids both old and new technology, that is not me, nor was it me during my active teaching years.   If it means dressing like a professional, using whatever means available to stimulate learning, enhancing the content, earning student respect, maintaining discipline, controlling the learning environment, and expecting excellence, that is what I was and am.

I had a long career in education: seven years as a high school teacher and department head, three simultaneous years as a night school adult education teacher and administrator; four years as a community college writing and English literature instructor, with voluntary teaching assignments at a federal correctional institution; and fifteen years as a university professor, preparing graduate students for professional careers in continuing and higher education.  In the last years of my career, I was a state executive director of adult and community education and then an assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs for a state university, community college, and technical institute governing body.

Teaching and learning, ideally, are two ends of an efficient formal process.  Human learning from infancy to the end of life rarely stops.  Much of that learning is haphazard, even accidental.  Much of it is deliberate and accomplished through individual, goal-directed activity, including reading and study.  But individual, even goal-directed learning is often inefficient.  It becomes efficient (ideally) and formal when a professional and prepared content specialist who knows how learning occurs and who can stimulate the learning process—an authentic teacher—becomes involved.

Most of us have had great teachers in our lives.  We recall them easily.  They stretched our minds.  They motivated us to learn.  They loved the subject they taught and, in turn, made the subject important to us.  They controlled and enhanced the learning environment, freeing it from distractions, yet using various media to increase learning efficiency.  Some of us looked into their magic and soon realized a simple truth: they were in charge of the process, and we were in charge of the learning!

Great teachers know that they can’t learn for us.  They can only control, enhance, and create the very best learning conditions possible for learning to occur, and THEY MAKE WHAT IS TO BE LEARNED WORTH LEARNING!  That is probably the most important part of their magic.  Such teachers make the world a better place for all of us.  We need more of them.  Ken McCullough




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