Wednesday, February 12, 2014


In preparation for the arrival of our child, my wife and I have been attending child-birthing classes at the local hospital.  (I can say such a thing because there is only the one.)  Since I am and have been a teacher, I have found myself assessing the instructor's ability to be in front of the class, which has not always been the kindest thing for me to do.  She is, after all, a nurse and trained to be a nurse--which is a skill-set entirely different from that of teaching.  The training work she does is only part-time; her calling is elsewhere, and the classes are the kind of thing I heard called lagniappe in my graduate work.  They are extra, they are outside her requirements, and so I should not look at her as if she is a professional educator.  (Even so, it is clear to me that she knows the material well, so that my wife and child will be well served to have her as one of their nurses, but how to teach is less certain for her.)

Still, a professional cannot help but filter the world through the profession, and so I have looked at her teaching as teaching.  I know that she is limited in some senses by the pre-approved curriculum that has been determined for her, and I am sympathetic to that limitation; I have long operated under similar restrictions.  (Sometimes they have been better than others.  I am far more amenable to teaching a course of study prescribed by those who are specialists in the field and more qualified than I am to one mandated by a person who claims to be an expert yet is less qualified than I am in it, who cannot comment on the current best practices due to a lack of knowledge that there even are best practices.  But I digress.)  It is not the instructor's fault that the materials she is obliged to use are insipid, speaking as if to children who are unaware of the basic processes by which life maintains itself.  (Then again, given what I know of local curricula, it is entirely possible that such lessons were omitted from the classroom, and given what I know of local parents, many are not qualified to talk about the issue themselves.)  And, in fairness, it is not the instructor's fault that I am amid the audience when I am far from being among the target audience (not because I am male, but because I am fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to gain at least a passing knowledge of such things and smart enough to have seized upon it).

I have wondered also if the way in which the instructor appears to me is like that in which I appear to my students: clearly knowledgeable but clearly not good at putting the material across.  (I think I have the problem opposite that of dumbing down, if I have any such problem.)  Do I seem to them to be badly presenting bad material?  (I am quite certain that some view me so.  I am equally certain that they are the kind of student who looks for the single "right" answer that does not exist in the academic humanities and whose parents use that lack of certainty as justification for the "uselessness" of the academic humanities.  Did they not exert a disproportionate influence on funding and policy-making, I should not be so concerned.)  Or am I once again worrying too much about what I cannot control in the short term?  For it is not seldom the case that the real lesson is not learned until much later, whether in my classrooms or in the classes I attend.

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